Florida is blessed with relatively mild winters. It’s hot, humid, rainy climate is perfect for the tropical shrubs and trees we adore. But, when the weather turns cold, these more sensitive trees may suffer. All it takes is a single night of temperatures 30 or lower to harm your trees (and the more serious freeze damage happens at 20 degrees).
Luckily, there’s something you can do to protect them.
Seasonal preparations ensure your tree, shrubs and landscape plants emerge in the spring stronger than ever. Read on for a few helpful tips from A Good Neighbor on how prepare your trees for the cooler temperatures and winter storms.
Pour water on them
Before the ground freezes, give your trees and shrubs a long drink. Especially if they’re in a poorly irrigated area or if you had a particularly dry fall. Going into the winter with drought stress means it’ll take more effort to survive the colder temperatures.
Water fortifies and hydrates them.
Cold weather can further dry-out the foliage and make it turn brown over the winter. So, giving your plants a drink throughout the winter will help them handle the colder weather. Regular watering strengthens the root systems, the trick is knowing when exactly to water.
Here are a few good times to water:
- On a sunny day after a freeze – this will help thaw the soil and give them available water.
- The morning before a cold front – this will ensure the cold doesn’t it out completely and give it the hydration it needs to combat damage.
- Before any expected drops in temperature – if the weather forecast calls for anything 35 degrees or lower, give your plants a drink.
Cover up roots
Tropical plants do best when they’re brought inside during the winter. Of course, that’s not possible to do with trees. Instead, take advantage of nature’s natural winter heat source: the earth.
Every night, heat radiates up from the soil and disappears into the air. Covering up your trees’ roots and your shrubbery puts all this lost heat to good use. Heat is trapped under the covers and protects plants from frost, extreme cold, and general injury. The best part is you don’t need to invest in special coverings. You can use things you already have at home.
Here are items you can use to cover up your trees:
- Cloth sheets
- Commercial frost cloths
- Specialty plant-covering material (widely available from local nurseries)
- Drop cloths (best for tropical shrubs and smaller trees)
Regardless of which material you choose to cover your trees, make sure they are:
- Large enough to cover all the roots.
- Able to pin to the ground to secure the cloth.
- Lightweight, so it won’t bend any branches.
- Removed when temperatures reach over 55 degrees.
*Plastic isn’t the best choice, but if it is all you have on hand, follow these tips:
- Remove plastic covers during sunny days to make sure it doesn’t overheat.
- Don’t let the plastic touch foliage or branches as it sucks the heat away from the plant.
- Monitor your plant for excess moisture, as this will freeze and cause frost burn.
Mulch is also a good option to cover your trees’ roots all year long. It moderates the soil temperature, keeping tree roots cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It also reduces weed growth, soil erosion and fosters good plant health. Finally, it retains water and reduces how often you’ll need to water your trees.
Cut branches back
Pruning is best done during the dormant, cold season. During the dormant season, tree wounds heal faster and are at less risk for disease. Trees are also less likely to start new growth, which will be easily damaged by frost and cold.
Plus, with all the leaves gone, it’s a lot easier to see where you’re cutting.
Winter pruning is for shaping and adjusting the tree’s size. It encourages vigorous growth when the weather starts warming up again. More severe pruning can be done in the spring when new growth starts popping up. This way, you won’t accidentally cut away healthy live wood.
There is one note!
Wait until January to prune non-spring flowering trees and fruit trees – peach, plum, Asian pear. If you’re not sure about when exactly to prune your tree, contact a certified arborist.
Watch for pests, disease, and injury
Early detection is key when it comes to preventing lasting damage to trees and shrubs. That’s because trees and shrubs weakened by disease or damage are very susceptible to the cold. During the winter, keep an eye on your trees, especially the more delicate ones, and treat them quickly at the first sign of damage.
Keep a close eye out for these symptoms if you’re worried about cold damage:
- An overall weak appearance
- Broken limbs
- Cracked bark
- Browning leaves or loss of needles (fir trees)
- Loss of twigs or bark
- Black or brown cambium layer (the layer under the bark)
- A lack of spring bud break
The cold isn’t the only thing that can harm your trees during the winter. Here’s a quick rundown of what might be harming your trees during the winter.
- What to look for: areas on fruit trees and other trees with thin bark, where the bark has caved or sank in. When the winter day is warm, the bark heats up, inspiring the tissues under it to come out of dormancy for a moment. Then, the temperature drops – as it does in the winter – freezing the tissue to death.
- How to prevent it:
- Cover the tree (see above)
- Use a frost shield; spray the canopy with this transparent protectant to minimize moisture loss.
- What to look for: brown spots on the leaves
- How to treat it: use a systemic fungicide when the cold snap ends.
General tips for dealing with damage
Knowing what damage looks like is only half the battle. Dealing with plant damage is the other half. The first step is to NOT prune or fertilize. Pruning could risk cutting healthy wood, and fertilizer encourages new growth; both things are very weak against the cold.
Call a professional
Luckily, Florida doesn’t get bad freezes or frosts all that often. But when it does, our plants bear the brunt of it. These steps will prepare your trees and shrubs for those rare nights when the temperature drops to the ground.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? Or maybe you’re too busy to manage all the trees on your property? Our A Good Neighbor Property Solutions, LLC experts, help prepare your trees for the coming weather so that they will emerge happy and healthy in the spring.
We will provide you with friendly, professional winter preparation and lawn care services and maintenance. Contact us today for a free quote.
We serve the following locations near our Spring Hill, FL, and Lutz, FL offices:
- Brooksville, FL
- Homosassa FL
- Land O’ Lakes FL
- New Port Richey FL
- Port Richey FL
- Trinity FL
- Wesley Chapel FL
- Hernando Beach, FL
- Hudson FL
- Odessa FL
- San Antonio FL
- Tampa FL
- Weeki Wachee, FL