January 24, 2021


Home Improvement

Plan to protect your plants in chilly weather

Well, we have felt a little bit of a chill, but it’s only a matter of time before our temperatures drop again. The average date of the first frost is Dec. 10. That’s for NAS Jax, which is fairly centrally located. Westside and northern locations can have earlier first frost dates.

a person in a garden: Covering plants to protect from frost, cold snap, blanketing, potted plants, horticulture. UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.

© Sally Lanigan/UF/IFAS
Covering plants to protect from frost, cold snap, blanketing, potted plants, horticulture. UF/IFAS Photo: Sally Lanigan.

Many gardeners love tender tropical plants, and these don’t tolerate frosts or freezes. These include bird of paradises, bromeliads, bananas, crotons, dracaenas, plumeria, orchids and many others.

Now is a good time to put your plan in place to protect your plants so that you can enjoy them next spring and summer.

There are many factors that can affect how the cold will affect your plants. Plants on the southeast side of your house are better protected than those on the northwest side since most winds behind cold fronts come from the north west.

Plants close to brick walls have the benefit of reflected warmth from the heat absorbed from the sun and then reflected back out for hours.

Ponds, lakes and streams capture the warmth of the sun’s heat in the water and slowly release it. While the water may seem cold to the touch, it does not reach the chill of the air temperature, as you can tell on a cold day, when you see the heat rising off the water.

And our soil actually holds warmth all through the winter, not going much below 50 degrees all through winter. On cold nights, heat rises from the soil. This is why we drape coverings over plants down to the ground, allowing the heat from the soil to rise into the covered space and warm the enclosed space.

We often get winds with the cold, so be prepared to anchor the covers so you don’t find them blown off.

Be careful with plastic coverings, which can capture the sun’s rays in the daytime and heat up like the inside of a car. Uncover or vent your covering as the day warms up.

A heavy canopy of trees can also trap warmth, maybe a degree or two. Remember this is just one- or two-degrees protection.

Some of our plants protect themselves very well. Gingers will just die back under the ground and regrow in the spring. Plumeria will shed its leaves. The bare canes should be protected from cold. Mine have always done well in a closet or spare room. They look dismal but bounce back in the spring. Achimenes, a lovely little rhizome (type of bulb) dies back to ground and with protection, reawakens by March.

It only takes a short time for plants to be damaged by the cold, sometimes even minutes can do the damage. Take the time now to prepare your plants for the weather that will come. It can be stunning when it comes, and it is usually at an inconvenient time.

a cactus in a dark room: A Christmas cactus makes a good decorative gift for the holidays.

© John Wickham/UF/IFAS
A Christmas cactus makes a good decorative gift for the holidays.

Time to think about gifts

Plants make great gifts.

You can find a wide variety of plants that make good gifts. How about an herb basket? These days more people are cooking at home. Bread bakers and salad makers alike can use herbs. A wide variety of culinary herbs will work well. Pot them in separate pots or a larger one. Unglazed pots allow good air circulation. Make sure the soil drains well. Examples of culinary herbs are rosemary, thyme, French tarragon, cilantro, chives, garlic chives, sage, oregano. There are many “flavors” of thyme, so you could make a pot of those alone.

In the more decorative gifts, there is always the traditional poinsettia. Native to Mexico, the poinsettia has colorful bracts and small flowers in the center. Look for one with small, tight flowers in the center for the longest lasting flowers. In addition to red bracts, white, pink and variegated bracts are available. Poinsettias can be planted in the ground once spring has come.

There is also the Christmas cactus, although if they are blooming right now, they are probably Thanksgiving cactus. Thanksgiving cactus has spikes on both corners of the tip.  

A really cute gift is a rosemary plant shaped like a Christmas tree. I have seen these sold with battery operated lights and decorated with small tree decorations. Very nice, and usable after the holidays as an herb. You could easily add the embellishments yourself.

Amaryllis are traditional gifts with beautiful flowers and can be planted in the yard later. Easy to grow, even for a professed brown thumb.

With these choices and more, it should be a good gifting season.

Becky Wern is a Master Gardener Volunteer with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For gardening questions, call the Duval County Extension Office at (904) 255-7450 from 9 a.m. to noon and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and ask for a Master Gardener Volunteer.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Garden Q&A: Plan to protect your plants in chilly weather

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