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Let cold snap weed out weak plants

We had our first spell of cold weather, which was cold enough in some areas of Tampa Bay to cause damage to plants. I practice a "no protection" policy during our cold weather. I no longer try and protect any plants in my landscape. If it can't survive, it gets replaced in the early spring.

I had some damage to the less hardy perennials and annuals in my yard. Some of the marigolds suffered. The pentas, begonias, and candy corn plants were not happy. Not all plants were treated equally. Those marigolds that were planted in the front yard fared worse than those in the back. They all were started from seeds from the same packet, so that just demonstrates there are microclimates in our yards.

My miniature crape myrtles were "burned" a bit by the cold. The one bougainvillea in the back yard had some shriveled leaves near the top. This just acts as a pruning for a plant that can get very large and out of hand.

The numerous petunias planted in the front seem to thrive in this cool weather. The flower colors seem even more vibrant after the temperature drops. None of the permanent (shrubs, trees, bushed) plantswere damaged, which shows that my "no protection" policy has already eliminated the less hardy.

If you do have damage in your yard, don't be too quick to remove the plants. The foliage may be damaged, but the root may still be healthy. If this is the case, the plant will revive when the weather warms up. It is best not to remove damaged leaves, stems and branches, as these will help protect the plant if we should get more cold weather. It is only December, so we have a couple of more months to possibly be hit with freezing temperatures.

Annuals damaged by the cold usually end up as little mounds of blackened, mushy foliage and stems. These plants are beyond help and will improve the looks of your yard if discarded. Seeds are inexpensive, so I will throw out a couple more packets of annual seeds and hope for the best.

There's not much that has to be done right now in your yard. I keep the leaves raked from the grass, just raking them into the planting beds as a mulch. Also weeds need to be removed. They are opportunistic and if ignored this time of year will strike with a vengeance in the spring. Plan ahead to apply a pre-emergent weed killer in late January or early February to your lawn. Mowing has been curtailed but don't let your lawn get too long as this will also encourage the growth of weeds.

If your grass appears brown and dry, it may be from the cold, lack of water, or just a natural dormancy. But if the brown has a tinge of red, the grass probably has a fungus. If so, spray with a fungicide twice during the next two to three weeks. The cold weather won't kill the fungus and fungus can kill out a lawn fairly rapidly.

This is a good time for some mental exercises in regard to your landscape. Think about what worked and what didn't in the past year. Plan on improvements and changes. Continue to look for ways to conserve water in your landscape. Take a moment to look through those gardening catalogs you receive throughout the year. Mark a few choices you might want to try in your landscape. Be daring, try something new each season. It makes gardening more creative and fun.

Clean out your tool shed or garage. Look closely at all your tools. Replace or repair as needed. The correct tool in good shape will help make your landscaping chores easier. This is a good time to overhaul your power equipment. Change oil, filters, and sharpen blades. Wipe your metal tools, including rakes, shovels and hand tools, with oil. Lightly sand the wooden handles with a fine sandpaper and rub with a protective oil or stain. Make sure your tools are stored away from moisture so they don't rust. Renew your resolve to clean the tools after each use to increase their life span. Get rid of duplicates or tools you don't use.

Mentally improving your landscape and physically preparing your tools for the spring will put you ahead of the garden season. Take the time to do this now while continuing to enjoy your winter garden.