Well, it finally happened! For Winter lovers you must be delighted, but your plants might not be too happy if you do not take care of them. Here in Gautier on the First of December, we had a low of 28 degrees and frost on the windshields. The low temperature and the frost are definitely plant killers. So if you have not already prepared your plants, it is time before the next frost or freeze. Even though we are in a subtropical climate, many days may be below the tolerance level for your plants. On January 17, 2018, the temperature in Pascagoula dropped to 18 degrees. That is the picture above.
First, do a little research. Make a list of your plants and check the internet for their hardiness rating.
Always check the weather, from a reliable source that will give you a few days’ notice of an upcoming freeze. That will give you time to act. And do not let your guard down, one winter I covered my beloved key lime tree, then after the freeze uncovered it, guess what another freeze just a few days later killed it [sad emoji].
Many methods are available to help protect your outdoor plants:
Many types of professional covers are available, frost cover or row cover make great protection for tender vegetation, such as recently planted winter gardens. For these ground covers make sure to use plenty of gardening pins or bricks and rocks, so you do not wake up to missing cover and frozen plants.
These types of covers can also be used for larger plants. I make a tent over the plant and staple the edges together with a regular stapler. Make sure to pull the cover tightly around the plant, so that wind will not blow it off.
You may have an inventory in your house that will help. Large black plastic bags, sheet plastic, bed sheets, old blankets. Just make sure if you use plastic, try to cover the plant with a sheet or other material first or the plant will be damaged in the places the leaves touch the plastic.
Save your bubble wrap, a free source to help your plants through the winter, just duct tape your bubble wrap around plants or pots to add protection.
Mulch, straw, pine needles, oak leaves, use these around the base of your hardier plants and young trees. Pine straw should be plentiful this time of year, if you do not have any in your yard, offer to rake a neighbor’s. Mulching will minimize heat loss. But be careful with pine straw it tends to change the soil to a more acidic PH. Remove the straw in spring and put it in your compost pile.
Light bulbs/Christmas lights provide enough heat to keep a tree or large bush from freezing, simply wrap the tree with Christmas lights and people will think you are decorating. You can also hang a drop light inside of your covers which will generate a lot of heat. Just make sure the light does not touch the plant or cover. And always be safe and keep your electrical plugs covered and not in a wet spot.
Black buckets, planters that you may have laying around, invert them and put over small plants. You may want to put a brick or rock on the top to keep winds from blowing them off in the middle of a stormy night.
Professional tree wrap is available for small trees, or you can use regular pipe insulation from your local hardware store. Cover the trunk and any large branches that you want to save, up to the point where small limbs make it impossible to wrap.
Water the plants before a frost. Do this because moist ground stays warmer than dry ground. Watering the night before the freeze arrives will insulate the root structure of the grass and plants, decreasing the potential for cold injury. Water acts as an insulator. Plant cells that are plump with water will be stronger against cold. When water freezes it produces heat. The best choice for citrus or larger trees is to use a micro-sprinkler. That will reduce your water bill and also not allow too many icicles to form on the trees and break the limbs. But if you have to, hang a regular sprinkler in the trees after all trying something is better than nothing.
Forget the gym. Sometimes you may just have to bone up and move your plants. Gather in a protected area, up next to the house, on a porch, in a garage, many plants will survive the low temperatures if they do not receive frost.
Build a tower with tomato sticks bamboo even old ripped two by fours. Form a teepee and secure it at the top, then use your favorite cover to wrap the teepee and protect the plant.
And if you are fortunate to have a greenhouse double-check your equipment. Nothing more depressing to find out in the morning you had a heat failure, and all is lost. Also, continue to run your water systems to keep the plants hydrated.
After the dreaded freeze, the real work begins. Remove your covers, especially anything black, during warmer weather heat will build up excessively giving your plant another shock. You do not necessarily have to take down all your hard work. Covers can be vented, folded back, and remove pots covering a plant, but keep them near for next time.
Mourn your loss. Water plants as the temperatures rise to help thaw the plant and make sure the roots are getting adequate moisture. Look back at your research, plants that are bulbs, or rhizomes are bound to recover in the Spring, however, do clean out the damaged tops as decaying plant tissue is unhealthy for the plant. Avoid pruning woody plants and trees until the spring, when damaged limbs will become obvious, if you just cannot wait use your fingernail or a sharp knife to check the layer just below the bark, green is good, brown is not.
So here’s hoping your plant babies have a safe and warm winter!