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Thursday - December 23, 2010

From: ellenton, FL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Seasonal Tasks
Title: Winter wrappings for plants in Ellenton Florida
Answered by: Leslie Uppinghouse

QUESTION:

Hi and thank you for your time, I do appreciate it. I have one question. I live in Florida and yes we do get frost and temps down to 28 degrees in the winter. last year I lost almost 50 plants that were planted the previous spring when the cold snap come through. This year at the sign of the first frost (last week) I carefully wrapped and tied all my plants with various materials such as bed sheeting, light weight canvas, and towels. Each plant was individually wrapped and neatly tied. (looks like a bunch of Christmas presents) the process took me two days but I figured it was better than the week I spent re-planting them last spring. Now my question is, can I leave the plants wrapped all winter (probably until the middle of march) or will the lack of direct sunlight hurt them. and should I maintain my usual twice a week watering. I just hate the thought of unwrapping each plant with the possibility of having to do them up again in a few days.. i was going to invest in the pre made lightweight covers with the drawstrings, what is your opinion on them Again thank you I eagerly await your response.

ANSWER:

You have some work ahead of you but you are on the right track. With numerous plants to care for, and by the sound of it, these are fairly young, we will talk about the basics for winter care and then go into scenarios that might help you with some specific issues.

You have the right idea by using cloth to cover your plants. This allows air to the plants which is crucial to their health and happiness. However wrapping the plants directly is not the best way to protect them. You don't want the cloth to freeze to the plant foliage. Visualize sticking your tongue to a frozen flagpole. You can prevent this by wrapping the cloth around stakes placed around the plant in a circle, triangle or box formation. You can leave the stakes up for the winter and only remove the cloth when the temperature moderates. You do have to remove the cloth when the the temperature raises, usually at daylight. You could perhaps compromise and wrap the sides of the stakes, leave them in place and just have cloth covers at the top that you remove daily. This would allow for gentle temperature increase, light to enter, and easy access to rain.

Not to get too crafty but for a cheaper version of your idea for the drawstring bags, you could get your hands on some big burlap bags that have drawstrings. You could cut out the bottoms, slip the bags over the stakes, then loosen the tops in the morning and let the bags fall to the ground for the day. At night (ideally before the sun goes down) pull up the bags and tighten the strings. Of course this would only work for medium sized bushes and perennials. Local feed stores have great big ones. You could ask them if you could have the used ones that they would be tossing out. Some are made of plastic but because that plastic is woven, still allowing air through, they would work just fine. 

As we don't know all of the varieties or sizes of plants you are caring for, here are a couple of tips that address a variety of cold weather problems: 

Newly planted thin barked trees are some of the most vulnerable in a cold snap. In Florida where you have intense sun, the radiant warmth the sun produces during the day can cause sap to flow. This heating and freezing combination can cause splits and cracks in limbs and trunks, which opens the trees up to fungal infections as well as sun scalding. To help protect your new trees, wrap their trunks with Tree Wrap. A product made of corrugated paper. Wrap the trunks from the base of the trees up to the first layer of branches. Tie or tape the top. Don't be stingy on the wrap, you want them to be tucked in. This you can leave up until early spring. It isn't a bad idea to do this every winter until you see the trunk bark thicken and become rougher with age. 

Another care option to perhaps add to any broad leaf evergreen that is too large to cover, would be to use an Antidesiccant spray on the leaves. This protects the plant with a thin layer of wax or resin depending on the brand. You have to reapply it every now and then. Follow the instructions on the label.

Water the ground before a freeze and do this before nightfall for two reasons. Freezing weather dehydrates the air and the soil. Watering gives the plants the extra moisture they need. This also will warm up the air around your plants as the water evaporates, keeping it warmer at night when the temperature falls.

With very young perennials or annuals this freezing and thawing can actually heave up small root systems. The soil contracts and expands with the rise and fall of temperature an in effect, this digs up your newly planted plants. To keep the plant roots from being jostled by temperature change, provide a layer of mulch. This will help keep the temperature steady and weigh down the dirt.

We know this all sounds like a ton of work but once you have a system down it is worth the effort. Many people relax their gardening efforts in the winter. However if you look around your yard, you will see a lot of activity in winter. So take a tip from the squirrels in your yard and get to work. The work you put it now will pay off next spring and hopefully keep your new additions warm as toast. 

 

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