Weeding Out the Weather: A Guide to Winter-Proof Gardens

By Jacqueline Saguin
winter-proof gardens

While a Florida winter feels like a summer vacation in comparison to neighboring states, you don’t want a wilting winter wonderland. Plants freeze in some parts of North Central Florida if temperatures drop enough. Proper care makes all the difference for winter-proof gardens to survive and thrive during a cold snap.

Prep your plants

Although prolonged freezes are uncommon in Florida, one night of wind and cold in 30 to 40-degree weather can cause lasting damage to tender plants. Extra mulch can shield from the cold. The Master’s Lawn Care Owner Rusty Thompson recommended keeping an inventory of frost blankets for more tender plants.

Thompson’s greatest home gardening tip is avoiding the “set it and forget it” mentality by reducing irrigation. Overwatering can cause plants to freeze once temperatures drop. Reduce watering time to once per week or cut your watering time by half, he said. About 9 a.m., or when the sun rises, is the best watering time. The soil warms, absorbs water and protects plant roots. Plus, you save on the water bill.

Create a winter-proof garden

Healthy plants can brave cold weather and recover quicker. So, care for plants throughout the year and seek out winter- friendly plants such as pansies, petunias, winter cabbages and violas, said Sun Power Lawn Care Owner Tom Snogles. Place vulnerable plants closer to buildings and use cold-hardy shrubs to shield your garden. Keep sensitive or delicate flowering plants in containers that can be moved indoors.

Protect your plants

Like Florida’s rain, North Central Florida’s winter temperatures are unpredictable. Monitor weather forecasts so you can protect your plants. Thompson said about 90 to 95% of Gainesville landscaping won’t need covering because most are already North Florida-friendly. But for tender plants like annuals and tropicals, cover gardens with a frost cloth or a lightweight material. Drape the layer so it completely touches the soil and traps ground heat underneath, Thompson said. Once the temperature rises or the winds die down, remove the covering. For a festive touch, Snogles said incandescent holiday lights warm the area during a cold snap.

Tip: Avoid plastic sheets. Although plastic might seem like an easy and effective way to shield your plants, it doesn’t breathe, according to Snogles. It moves heat away from the plant and welcomes moisture onto plant leaves, which causes a foliage burn.

Treating the cold

If you missed the window to protect your plants or a few have turned an unfortunate shade of brown, there’s still hope. Most plants will live, but once green leaves turn brown and branches harden into sticks. Leave it and wait until after the last frost, which is typically late February or early March. Then, cut the plant back to a third of its size, so it can rejuvenate for springtime.

Did you know?

Although spring is the opportune planting time in northern states, spring and summer rank last for best planting times in North Central Florida, according to Thompson. Winter ranks second for the best planting time. Typically, people start planting farthest away from the area’s most extreme season. In North Central Florida, it’s summer. People start planting in winter, so plants have months to adjust for summer’s impending heat and humidity.