Dealing with damage after a freeze

Wayne Hobbs
Posted 1/10/18

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – It seems winter finally arrived in Florida. Overnight, I saw my own perennials wilt down after some very persistent flowering but last week’s hard freezes have left …

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Dealing with damage after a freeze

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – It seems winter finally arrived in Florida. Overnight, I saw my own perennials wilt down after some very persistent flowering but last week’s hard freezes have left many of our tender landscape plants in a state of brown decay. If your less cold-tolerant plants are not protected from the frost, here are some tips to weather them through the damage.

Irrigation in Winter

Watering before a freeze can help moderate soil temperatures, protecting the roots, so a good rain the day before a hard freeze can be a blessing. Make sure the soil around damaged plants stays somewhat moist and does not dry out completely. If temperatures ever stay below freezing for a prolonged period, watering may help defrost the soil and give plants some available water. On a side note, never leave hoses pressurized with water during cold weather, it makes them likely to split or burst.

Do Not Fertilize

Injured plants make people want to baby them – don’t. Do not fertilize until spring, when the plants begin actively growing again. Fertilization with nitrogen in the winter can lead to even more damage as the young growth that nitrogen promotes is very cold sensitive.

Do Not Prune It Back

While it may be ugly, the wilted, brown, and dead plant material associated with frost or freeze damage protects the rest of the plant that is still living. Leave it there until the danger of cold is gone in the spring, then check for fresh growth. Woody plants can be checked by scratching the surface with a fingernail and seeing the color of the wood underneath: black or dark brown wood can be a sign of cold damage. Tender, fleshy plants like begonias or impatiens can be pruned back after cold so they don’t rot and lead to disease.

A Browning Lawn is Normal

With cold weather, many lawns will turn brown as they head into full dormancy – don’t worry, this is normal. Some lawns will even take on a purplish tint in the cold.

However, if temperatures drop too low it can cause some permanent damage which can be observed by wilting, turning to a brown or white color, and then a rotting smell. If growth does not resume in the spring, you will likely need to replace damaged areas.

If you have any more questions about horticulture, any landscape topics, or need plant or pest materials identified, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office online at http://www.clay.ifas.ufl.edu, follow us on Facebook, or call by phone at (904) 284-6355.

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