Brian Galligan, the director of horticulture at the Naples Botanical Garden, says common home gardening plants are also susceptible to freezes. Tender annuals, herbs and vegetables are among the most vulnerable plants.
Here are Galligan’s tips for protecting plants:
■ For temperatures hovering over freezing a simple cloth draped over the plants and firmly attached to the ground works great.
■ If the temperature drops around freezing, or frost is possible, a small heater, heating pad, or heat lamp, placed within a safe distance will increase the temperature slightly and reduce damage.
■ Irrigation needs to be cut off, preferably days in advance to reduce the loss of heat stored in the ground and increase the plants ability to naturally defend itself. Icing over the plant does work in a freeze, but is detrimental in near freezing temperatures.
■ After a cold event inspect your plants for damage. Take note of those plants showing signs of stress. This can be leaf drop, burned looking or bronzed leaves. These plants need to be covered for future cold spells. Leaving the damaged foliage on the plant is good because it will act as a buffer for later frost.
■ For visibly damaged palms, target the bud with a peroxide drench soon after the cold passes. This will reduce secondary infections by insects and fungus which are drawn to the damaged tissue.
■ Fertilizing and heavy watering should be held back until signs of new growth are evident.
NAPLES — Only a week after Southwest Floridians weathered record-breaking cold temperatures, another arctic front is setting in.
If forecasts are correct, temperatures in Southwest Florida could drop even lower than the lows experienced last week.
Robert Molleda, a meteorologist at the weather service’s Miami/South Florida Forecast Office, said these kinds of back-to-back cold snaps are rare in South Florida, especially for the first half of December.
Molleda, in an e-mail to the Daily News, wrote that typically South Florida is most vulnerable to freezes from late December through February.
The National Weather Service predicted lows of 33 in Naples on Monday night and early Tuesday morning and 29 degrees further inland in Immokalee, the home of some of Collier’s biggest growers. Wind chills were expected to drop the temperature another 10 degrees.
That’s bad news for those reliant on healthy produce crops.
“It doesn’t look real good for vegetable farming,” said Gene McAvoy, a multi-county vegetable agent with the University of Florida/IFAS Extension in Hendry County.
Cold weather, particularly freezing temperatures and frost, can cause “burn” wounds on some plants, spoil ripening fruits and weaken the immune systems of others.
McAvoy said last week’s cold snap, which saw 28 degrees in Immokalee, caused only “minimal damage” on softer vegetables like green beans, corn and tomatoes.
The worry, McAvoy said, is this week’s temperature could get “a little colder for a little longer.”
“It’s going to hurt pretty badly,” McAvoy said.
Sustained sub-freezing temperatures severely damage tomato plants and citrus fruits. Last year, those kinds of conditions in inland regions of Southwest Florida caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damaged produce.
The memories of last winter’s freezes are also on the minds of workers at the Naples Botanical Garden. The cold claimed some of the garden’s flower petal and damaged sensitive tropical plants, said Botanical Garden spokeswoman Shannon Palmer.
“We had a lot of learning last year,” she said. “We did lose some plants.”
To avoid those kinds of losses, horticulturist Brian Galligan, and other workers for the Botanical Garden, wrapped some plants in frost cloths.
Other more sensitive plants, like their orchids and their Cacao tree, were draped with cloths and paired with heaters to keep them warm throughout the night, Palmer said.
Regardless of preparations, though, freezing temperatures will still damage a lot of plants, she said.
That’s why many are hoping this December’s two recent freezes won’t be accompanied by another frosty January and February.
Molleda said cold Decembers are “not necessarily a sign” of an overall cold winter.
North America is experiencing a La Niña weather pattern, Molleda explained, which typically leads to warmer and drier winters in this region.
He added, “This isn’t 100 percent, however, and there have been a couple of La Niña winters when temperatures have ended up below normal for similar reasons to what we’re currently having.”
Connect with Aaron Hale at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale.