Freeze Protection – By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening”

Many of you may be feeling the change in the air. This change is a warning sign for some plants and a helpful hand to others. Orchids and tropical plants do not like cool weather and need protection when temperatures fall below 45 degrees. However, a citrus tree likes the cooler weather as this helps to increase the sugar content in the fruit. Because many of our tropical’s can be severely injured or killed by these temperatures, we must prepare our plantings for the cooler weather we know will soon be upon us. Here are some helpful hints you can use to protect your plants and avoid injury during the winter months.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch! Now is a great time to protect your plants root systems by replenishing the mulch around the base of your plants. This will help your plants in two ways. Mulch helps to insulate the root system by providing a barrier against the cold. Even if the plants leaves are affected by the cold, the root system will be protected and allow the plants to recover much faster once temperatures rise. Be sure to add at least 3 inches of mulch from pine straw, pine bark, or cypress mulch over the entire root system. Do not place this mulch directly around the trunk of the plant as this tends to allow fungal pathogens entry into the stem. Stay back at least 3 inches from the base of the plant. Another benefit to the mulch is the water holding capacity. Mulch helps retain moisture the plants desperately need during times of drought or water restrictions. An added benefit to mulch is that once the mulch breaks down, additional organic matter with be released to the soil. Rubberized mulch or stones placed around plants are not recommended.   

There are a few products on the market you can use to help your plants during cold temperatures. Freeze Pruf, Frost blankets, and Foam are just a few. Freeze Pruf is a new product that comes in liquid form and can be sprayed directly on your plants. This eco-safe spray improves the plants natural cold tolerance by up to 9 degrees. You can look up Freeze Pruf on the internet at the following address http://www.liquidfence.com/FreezePruf.html.  Materials like Freeze Pruf will need to be re-applied every month during cold weather.

Frost blankets are available at most retail garden centers. I have even seen them at the local box stores. Make sure if you are going to cover your plant with one of these that you cover the entire plant to the ground. Covering to the ground helps retain heat let off from the soil during the night and circulates it around your plant. The addition of a light bulb or additional heat source during the night can help maintain temperature under the blanket especially during windy nights. Use a little soil around the base of the blanket to ensure a tight seal. Never use plastic blankets around your plants as this actually intensifies the cold and when left on the plant during the day, many plants can be burned by the warm temperatures which build up in the afternoon.   

Jack Frost Foam or Botanical insulation foam is generally used by professional growers to protect their crops from freezing weather. Most of these foams are used only for short durations. Generally speaking, the foam will disappear after about 8-14 hours and will then again need to be re-applied if an additional freeze occurs. This foam blanket keeps the cold off the plant and the warmth from the ground on the plant. Foam is a great way to save annuals or perennials which are small or low to the ground. Large plants or trees would be better served to use the frost blankets. Foam will also save plants from freezing weather better than other products which merely protect the plants from cold not freezing temperatures. For more information on foaming products check out this link http://www.jackfrostfoam.com/.           

If you that have purchased a Christmas tree this year, there is a new product that you need to know about. This product is called Vacation Anti-Drought. Vacation Anti-Drought can help your Christmas tree survive longer without the need for watering for up to one month. Just mix several ounces of Vacation Anti-Drought into the water you put into your Christmas tree stand and your tree will last longer and hold its needles longer without having to add additional water. Check out more about Vacation Anti-Drought at the link provided http://www.mastergardening.com/too-9621.html.                 
Hope this news helps you and your plants! Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Remember without plants, we wouldn’t be here!

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