Winter is fast approaching, and the temperatures are slowly falling. Before you know it, frosty nights will arrive, and it will once again be time to protect your cold-sensitive landscape plantings.
Last year's unusually cool weather damaged many yards and plants, so now is a perfect time to form a plan to keep your landscape safe from this year's approaching cold.
The best long-term approach is to try to develop a landscape of plants that are tolerant of the conditions we face in Hernando County. While cold tolerance is part of that, we also need to think about such things as soil type, mature growing size and water requirements.
Your Hernando County extension office Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program is a great place to gather such information to make your gardening easier.
When thinking about cold weather protection for this winter, it's important to take steps that will minimize potential damage before it happens. One of the easiest ways to do that is simply to avoid practices that will result in encouraging new plant growth, as new growth will be the first part of the plant to suffer cold damage.
Practices to avoid would include pruning, fertilization and excessive watering.
With the exception of fall vegetable gardens or annual flowers, all landscape or lawn fertilization should have been finished by the middle of October. Most pruning should also cease, as the new growth produced after cutting will be the most susceptible to the coming cool weather.
Overwatering plants can also weaken them, or cause a flush of new foliage at the wrong time. During the winter season, lawns and landscape plants don't require as much water due to the shorter days and slowed growth that naturally occurs. Most lawns and landscape plants will be healthy and content getting watered every 10 days to two weeks.
By avoiding practices that encourage tender new growth, cold-related plant damage can easily be reduced.
Although Florida-friendly landscapes should only include plants that are suited for our Hernando County climate, occasionally there are plants in our landscapes that may be cold sensitive, despite our best efforts to prevent damage. Sometimes the only way to protect these plants is by covering them.
Plastic makes a poor choice for plant covers due to its high propensity to transfer cold. Plant coverings should be kept off the foliage, as any covering can transfer freezing temperatures to an area it touches. Covers don't have to be heavy to be effective, and a sturdy sheet or similar fabric can protect the plant.
The key is making sure the cover extends to the ground, and traps the heat rising from the soil at night. Make sure the bottom of the cover is secured to the ground to keep the wind from lifting the edges and releasing the trapped heat.
Slightly moist ground will release more heat than dry soils, so a light hand watering of the ground under your plant cover can actually help. Be sure not to overwater, however, as this can weaken the plant.
John Korycki is the Florida Yards and Neighborhoods program coordinator for the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service. He can be contacted at Jkorycki@hernandocounty.us.