Special Topic Archive

Freezing Weather Is Coming

Since freezing weather is coming, here's what to do to protect your landscaping.

The following is from an IFAS (Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) publication:

Water Relations

Watering landscape plants before a freeze can help protect plants. A well watered soil will absorb more solar radiation than dry soil and will reradiate heat during the night. This practice elevated minimum night temperatures in the canopy of citrus trees by as much as 2°F (1°C). However, prolonged saturated soil conditions damage the root systems of most plants.

Other Cultural Practices

Avoid late summer or early fall pruning which can alter the plant hormonal balance resulting in lateral vegetative budbreak and a flush of growth. This new growth is more susceptible to cold injury.

Healthy plants are more resistant to cold than plants weakened by disease, insect damage, or nematode damage. Routine inspection for pests and implementation of necessary control measures are essential. Contact your County Extension Office for information on pest identification and recommended controls.

Methods of Protection

Plants in containers can be moved into protective structures where heat can be supplied and/or trapped. Containers that must be left outdoors should be protected by mulches and pushed together before a freeze to reduce heat loss from container sidewalls. Leaves of large canopy plants may be damaged if crowded together for extended periods.

Heat radiating from soil surfaces warms the air above the soil or is carried away by air currents. Radiant heat from the soil protects low growing plants on calm cold nights, while tall, open plants receive little benefit. Radiant heat loss is reduced by mulches placed around plants to protect the roots. For perennials, the root system is all that needs to be protected since the plants die back to the ground annually.

Coverings protect more from frost than from extreme cold. Covers that extend to the ground and are not in contact with plant foliage can lessen cold injury by reducing radiant heat loss from the plant and the ground. Foliage in contact with the cover is often injured because of heat transfer from the foliage to the colder cover. Some examples of coverings are: cloth sheets, quilts or black plastic. It is necessary to remove plastic covers during a sunny day or provide ventilation of trapped solar radiation. A light bulb under a cover is a simple method of providing heat to ornamental plants in the landscape.

What To Do After The Freeze

Water Needs

Plant water needs should be checked after a freeze. The foliage could be transpiring (losing water vapor) on a sunny day after a freeze while water in the soil or container medium is frozen. Apply water to thaw the soil and provide available water for the plant. Soils or media with high soluble salts should not be allowed to dry because salts would be concentrated into a small volume of water and can burn plant roots.


Severe pruning should be delayed until new growth appears to ensure that live wood is not removed. Dead, unsightly leaves may be removed as soon as they turn brown after a freeze if a high level of maintenance is desired. Cold injury may appear as a lack of spring bud break on a portion or all of the plant, or as an overall weak appearance. Branch tips may be damaged while older wood is free of injury. Cold injured wood can be identified by examining the cambium layer (food conducting tissue) under the bark for black or brown coloration. Prune these branches behind the point of discoloration.

Florida homeowners enjoy a vast array of plant materials and often desire a tropical or semitropical appearance to their landscapes. Plants are often planted past their northern limit in Florida, although microclimates differ dramatically. Tropical and subtropical plants can be used effectively in the landscape, but they must be protected or replaced when necessary. A combination of tender and hardy plants should be planted in order to prevent total devastation of the landscape by extremely cold weather.

Additional Notes:

  • Make sure the sprinkler system is turned OFF after the pre-freeze watering. Irrigating during a freeze can have disastrous effects.
  • Avoid replanting cold sensitive plants until danger of frost/freeze is gone (usually late February, early March, depending on location).
  • Note the instructions for covering plants: protection needs to extend to the ground and be secure if there is a lot of wind. Plastic will burn leaves, so the best choice of covering material is moving blankets, old sheets, towels, etc.

  • For large and/or very valuable specimens, string Christmas lights and cover. Droplamps will also help provide additional heat.

Getting Ready For Old Man Winter

While gardening in the Sunshine State isn't the same as being "up North," we do have some timely tasks required each Fall. These items ensure that our expensive turf and plants are prepared for the Winter and ready to explode with new growth in the Spring!

  1. Revive Ornamental Grasses

    Do you have ornamental grasses in your landscape? This is a great time of year to prune them back if they are looking bad. If they are still flowering, or getting ready to, make sure you wait until they are done. If they need to be pruned back, the easiest way to do this is to use electric hedge pruners or large clippers. Cut the grass back to about eight inches high. You may also wish to divide up your grasses at this time of year. After you cut the grass back, use a sharp shovel to divide up the grass. This is a great way to create more plants for the yard or share plants with friends and neighbors.

  2. Divide plants

    In addition to dividing your ornamental grasses; there are other plants that you may wish to divide. Perennials such as liriope, African iris, flax lily, bulbine, and herbs such as rosemary and tarragon are easy to divide. You may want to cut them back to the ground and then divide the clump into smaller sections using a sharp shovel.

  3. Move Plants That Have Outgrown Their Space

    If you have let things get a little out of control over the summer months, now is a great time to move plants that have outgrown their allotted space or have self-seeded themselves and created a crowded landscape. Find a new spot for the plant that has more room than its current location. You want to find a spot that will allow your plant to spread without having to continually prune it during the growing season. This may be a great time to create new mulched beds or expand existing mulched beds in your yard. By dividing and moving plants you may be able to create new planting areas for free by using plants you already have, or consider doing a plant exchange with your friends or neighbors using the plants you have divided or removed.

  4. Mulch

    As you clean up the plants in your mulched beds, you may find that you need to re-mulch. Remember that you need to have three to four inches of mulch in your beds. This will help keep down weeds, reduce erosion, and keep the soil moist. If you find that you need to re-mulch, choose a by-product mulch such as pine bark, pine straw, eucalyptus, melaleuca, oak leaves, or compost. The addition of mulch will also help create a clean and neat look in the mulched beds that you have worked so hard to clean up.

  5. Plant Trees And Shrubs

    After you have cleaned up, divided, and pruned your way through the landscape, you may find that you want to add more trees and shrubs to your yard. Fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs in central Florida. Choose plants that are the appropriate size for your yard and utilize local plant lists, such as those available from the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program.

  6. Fertilizing

    This is one of the most important fertilizations of the year. It is very important to ensure that your plants and turf are prepared to withstand any freezes, frosts and grow a solid, strong root system.