Start prepping now for inevitable winter forecast
. Cold weather may soon be just around the corner and we might not be prepared. Now is the time to plan ahead for what measures you will take when cold weather does arrive.
Some of the plants that require protection in home landscapes are copperleaf, banana, papaya, poinsettia, hibiscus, ixora, dwarf schefflera, carissa, philodendron, croton, bougainvillea, allamanda, seagrape, bromeliads, tropical fruit trees and other tropical or semitropical plants you may have planted.
Covers offer the most practical cold protection for valuable tender plants. Old sheets, blankets, boxes, newspaper or plastic can be used for covers. When using plastic, build a frame over the plant so that the plastic does not touch the plant's foliage. Any covering should be sealed to the ground. This will trap heat rising from the ground and keep the interior 3 to 4 degrees warmer than the outside air. Apply the cover late in the afternoon before the temperature starts to drop. Plastic covers should be removed the next morning after the temperature is above freezing but before the sun's rays become warm enough to cook your plants. Cloth or paper coverings can remain over plants for two or three days if the temperature is expected to go below freezing each night. Additional information can be at solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/hot_topics/lawn_and_garden/cold_ protection_of_ornamental_plants.html.
Do your homework before adding trees to your yard
Trees are a large part of any landscape and should be selected carefully. Shade trees should have moderate to dense foliage and should not have large or objectionable fruits, flowers or seeds. They should have the ability to withstand high winds and be relatively free from insects and disease pests, and of a size suitable for the location. We have all seen the large oaks planted under utility lines and then severely pruned. You may want to use both deciduous and evergreen trees in your landscape. Some deciduous shade trees for our area are red maple, pecan, sweet gum, sycamore, water oak and elm. Evergreen trees include live oak, pine, magnolia and red cedar. For more information on selecting trees, visit Selecting Quality Trees at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/EP/EP31300.pdf. You may also want to read Wind and Trees: Lessons Learned From Hurricanes at edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR17300.pdf.
Keep those poinsettias looking good year-round
. If your holiday poinsettia comes in a container wrapped in a foil outer cover, be sure to remove it or punch holes in the bottom to allow excess water to drain. Keep the soil around your poinsettia slightly moist, but not soggy, and place the plant in a bright window out of direct sunlight.
There are two types of flowering holiday cactus, the Christmas cactus and the Easter cactus. The Christmas cactus, Zygocactus truncates, usually flowers from Thanksgiving to Christmas and its leaves have pointed lobes. The Easter cactus, Schlumbergera bridgessii, has wider leaves, which are rounded. It usually flowers from Christmas to Easter. Allow soil to dry out between watering and keep the plant in bright light while in bloom. These are long-lived plants and they can be kept outside in the shade during most of the year. They do need to be protected from frost and freezing temperatures.
Kalanchoe, Kalanchoe blossfeldiana, a winter-blooming succulent, has become popular as a holiday plant. The showy flowers are in terminal clusters and last for several weeks. Flower colors are yellow, pink, red and various shades of orange. Because this is a succulent plant, let the soil dry out between watering.
Get rid of twig girdlers from the ground up
An insect called a twig girdler is very seldom seen but often very damaging to young trees. The female lays her eggs in the twigs of maple, oak, pine and pecan trees. She then chews around the twig so it will drop to the ground where the life cycle will be completed. The damage occurs when leaders of small trees are girdled. This changes the tree's structure and may result in a weakened tree. Larger trees are generally not damaged to any extent from the twig girdlers' "pruning." The only control measure is to clean up the fallen twigs and destroy them. This eliminates the next generation.
Compiled by Theresa Badurek, urban horticulture extension agent, UF/IFAS Pinellas County Extension Service. For additional landscape and garden information, visit pinellascountyextension.org. For regular tips and information about what's growing in Pinellas, go to facebook.com/growpinellas.