2014 ushered a new phrase into our vocabulary: polar vortex. The New Year has also ushered in something equally unfamiliar to Floridians – constant blasts of cold weather!  Although we hardly have to worry about a visit from Frosty the Snowman, and folks up north – dealing with the brunt of the polar vortex – would be thrilled to see their low temperatures bottom out in the 30s, the title of a song recorded by Louis Armstrong, Dean Martin and Ray Charles describes it best: baby it’s cold outside!

The havoc wreaked by a big chill isn’t just felt by humans – plants and vegetation indigenous to Florida’s typical tropical climate need protection, too. When temperatures plummet, here are some tips you can use to winterize your landscape, giving your lawn and yard the best opportunity to bloom this spring:

  • Water your landscaping or garden before the cool down to help keep the soil warm. Mulching landscape plants helps protect the roots.
  • Bring cold-sensitive tropical plants inside or store near the interior wall of a garage to provide extra warmth and protection from wind. Flush the pots with water to drive out pests before bringing them inside.
  • If you choose to leave them outside, protect them with some type of covering wrapped near the bottom of the pot. Soil in containers can get just as cold as the air temperature and destroy plant roots, even if above-surface leaves survive.
  • Because frost and cold can seep through cloth material, use stakes or frames to try to keep the material off the plants. Avoid using plastic material – when temperatures rise, plastic could "bake" your plants.
  • Don’t prune plants, even those that appear to be damaged, until spring. You’ll be better able to determine if the plant survived the freeze once new growth starts.
  • If necessary, prune large plants to make their size more practical to cover. When dealing with trees that are too large to cover, wrap the trunk with insulating material such as foam rubber or blankets. Even if the top dies, you may be able to regrow the tree from the surviving trunk.

What to do after a freeze

  • Plants you’ve moved indoors: water them, if necessary, and move them back outside.
  • Covered plants: If you’re expecting continued cold weather, you can leave plants covered with blankets or sheets for several days without harming them, but eventually the covers will need to be removed so the plants can get light.
  • Outdoor plants: apply water to thaw the soil, and water the plant. Make sure that soils with high soluble salts do not become dry because the salts can burn plant roots.
     

With a little TLC, you may be able to protect your plants from this year’s polar vortex.