Here’s how to protect your plants from frost or freeze

Central Florida to wake up Saturday morning to temps in 20s, 30s

Frost (WDIV)

ORLANDO, Fla. – As a strong arctic front moves closer to Central Florida, protecting plants is on the minds of many homeowners with temperatures expected to dip to the 20s and 30s overnight through the holiday weekend. Protecting your investment is important and we’re here with a few tips to help out.

Covering plants that are sensitive to cold weather is a good idea, but it needs to be done with the proper material to prevent damage.

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Cover plants with blankets or sheets, even burlap or other warm material to trap the heat the soil radiates overnight. Since it will be a bit windy, weight the cover down to keep them in place. Avoid using plastic as it can make the plants more susceptible to the cold by holding moisture against the plant tissue resulting in severe damage and even losing the plant entirely.

SnapJAX user FlamingoKimbo shared this photo of their plants swaddled in blankets to keep them safe from the freeze. (Copyright 2021 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Have holiday lights in the garden? Two green thumbs up! Although it may not seem like a lot of heat coming from the twinkling lights running through the plants, there’s enough to provide supplemental warmth, just don’t let the cover touch the lights.

Move container plants inside to a porch or garage to protect them from the cold elements too. If they’re too large, group them together and then cover with a blanket or sheet for added protection.

Adding organic mulch can help to protect plant roots from losing heat too. When mulching around trees, remember to only cover the roots but not up the bark of the tree. Adding anywhere between 1-2 inches of mulch will protect the ground from freezing deeply resulting in the roots and base of the tree being protected better. Keep in mind adding too much mulch increases the risk of insects, fungi, and other pests.

Before the anticipated freeze, water landscape plants during the day and then turn the sprinklers off. By watering the surrounding dirt, you increase the amount of heat that the soil absorbs during the day. Grass and ornamental plants should not be watered at night during a freeze.

Fern growing at Linnie Richardson's home in Pierson, Florida. Her family also grew acres of leather leaf fern like many of the local farmers to sell to florists to use in bouquets of flowers during holidays. (Copyright 2020 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

Although we see many fern and citrus growers doing this, it’s not something that needs to be done. In fact the process of freeze protecting fern can be tricky. Fern growers spray a thin layer of water on the crop that will encase the plant once temperatures drop below freezing.

Freeze protecting is an all-night event that requires a lot of attention to ensure all the sprinklers are working and that the fern is continuously being sprayed with water so the internal temperature of the plant remains steady. Its a delicate balance between too much ice and just the right amount. If it’s windy during the freeze, too much ice can get heavy as it builds on the plant, causing it to break. All of the careful monitoring by fern growers overnight is to protect the delicate fronds that are sold to florist shops.

Fern in your yard doesn’t require this amount of attention because they are fairly hardy perennials, but covering them will help protect the root and rhizome (stems) from damage. The fronds may turn brown or look burnt, but will protect the crown where the new growth comes from in the spring.

USDA's Plant hardiness zone map of the US

Know the plant hardiness zone you live in before selecting plants. Maps like the one above will help determine which plants will thrive at a specific location. Knowing your plants cold weather tolerance is important too. Different varieties of plants will react differently when temperatures dip to or below the freezing level.

For example, hibiscus can tolerate temperatures as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit and isn’t impacted heavily by frost.

Plumeria (Pixabay.com)

Plumeria on the other hand doesn’t like temperatures below 50 degrees but can tolerate brief periods of 30-degree temperatures. Plumeria can handle a light frost, but smaller ones will likely die in a hard freeze. Even larger plumeria trees can encounter severe damage.

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About the Author:

Emmy Award Winning Meteorologist Samara Cokinos joined the News 6 team in September 2017. In her free time, she loves running and being outside.