Gardening: Protecting your yard from the cooler temps

Eileen Ward
Landscape crew members bundled up in west Viera on a cold weather on MLK Day Monday, January 17.

January is here and we will still experience cold temperatures since it is the second coolest month of the year. The average temperatures are in the 65 degree range with highs in the 70s or low 80s and lows in the 40s or 50s.

Frost is always a possibility in January and may be in our future as cold fronts from the north make their way this far south. Frost will do more damage than cold events to our lawns, flowers and more tropical plants. Especially those plants that have been cut back too late in the year and now have tender new growth. The severe windstorms we have had recently desiccated and defoliated many trees and plants. These will have tender new growth as the new foliage emerges.

More:Alice White speaks to Calusa Garden Club on planting native trees

What to do? Don’t run a lawn mower over lawns damaged by frost or cold as this can damage the blades even more. Only mow as needed every ten to fourteen days and maybe less after cold spells. And resist the urge to cut away the dead and damaged branches on your plants. Wait until spring to do this as there may be colder on the way which will do even more damage if you once again have new buds or tender growth on the terminal ends of your branches.

Be careful not to over water your landscapes. There can be a lot of brown in our landscapes as a result of the cold. Your plants, trees and palms may have many yellow and brown leaves, and these will begin to shed. Remember this is cold damage and not from a lack of water. These damaged plants will go into a dormancy and the trans-evaporation rates will be very low. The water in the soil will stay there much longer and this constant presence of moisture can cause disease. When cold, keep your sprinklers at once a week or less until the hot, dry weather of spring arrives in April or May. This year has been unusually hot so many are still watering twice a week.

Many flowers and vegetables can be damaged by cold or frost but fortunately you can still plant some new ones in the month of January. If the damage to your flowers is minor, you might be able to prune the tips for a new flush of flowers rather than replanting the beds completely. If the flowers and vegetables are wilted to the ground it is probably best to remove them and start again. Many geraniums suffered from a devastating fungus this year. It is best to pull those out of the garden and begin again.

Hibiscus plants tend to bloom profusely after a good cold spell. Look around and you will see their beautiful blooms everywhere. Azaleas will also begin blooming in January. Plant azaleas so they get some sun but are not in the full sun. It is too strong for them here in south Florida. It is also a good month to plant rose bushes. Remember to look for roses grafted onto Dr. Huey or Fortuiana root stock. This under stock is nematode resistant and roses grafted on it can live as long as fifty or sixty years. Roses will also give some nice blooms with the cold weather.

January is one of the months to fertilize citrus. Be sure to fertilizer citrus before they begin to bloom in the spring. The citrus industry has been hard hit in past years as the cold moves farther south and diseases like canker and greening affect them. A lot of the citrus in our yards on Marco Island are slowly declining and dying because of damage done by the hurricanes of past years and Irma may be their doing in. The January cold of 2010 also doomed many of them. Fertilize mangos when they begin to bloom whether it is in December, January or February. If you have had problems with diseased mango fruit or blooms spray the blooming tree weekly with copper, alternating with another fungicide to prevent copper toxicity, for disease free blooms and fruit.

Watch for spider mites especially on true evergreens like arborvitae, juniper and Italian cypress. Treat with a miticide for control.

Many people with poinsettias cannot bring themselves to throw away these plants after the holidays. These can be planted as an ornamental in south Florida but they can be a very large plant so care must be taken when deciding on a location. It should be a place free of light at night to help with the flowering for next season. They are not without their problems. Hornworms may be eating your poinsettia plants this month. These worms can grow to be many inches long and can be hard to see. They can defoliate a plant in a day. Also look for the eggs which are perfectly round and light green in color. They can be found on the top and bottom of leaves and bracts. The eggs are the size of tiny BBs. If the poinsettia’s leaves are yellow and stems are split and oozing, remove and discard the entire plant as it is diseased.

As we go through the first month of the new year, we should all try to be better stewards of our land. Use good horticultural practices which will help you use less fertilizer and pesticides and most importantly water. Learn to identify invasive exotic plants which damage our natural areas. Don’t plant them in your landscapes and if they have volunteered on your land, remove them from your yards or vacant lots so they cannot spread to the precious few natural areas left on and around Marco Island. You might be surprised at some of the plants on the official list. I know I was, and I’ll share this with you in a later column. Plant some native plants and embrace the wildlife that surrounds us by giving them food and a place in your yard. Marco Island is truly a special paradise we are all fortunate to share with Mother Nature. Let us not forget that it why we all love it so much. Once again, I wish you and our island all a healthy and prosperous new year.

More:Gardening: Are you ready for winter?

Eileen and Peter Ward have owned a landscape and lawn maintenance company for 35 years. Eileen can be reached at or 239-394-1413. Read past columns at