Tending to Tender Tropicals

Guest Author

Tropical plants are beautiful, but a little care needs to be taken during our infrequent cold weather.

Although our winters are mostly mild, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the forecast so you can prepare your landscape for a freeze. Here are some tips to keep in mind when dealing with tropicals:

  • Bougainvillea and oriental hibiscus are very sensitive to cold. They decline with temperatures below 40 degrees. Covering them will sometimes do the job, but the best protection is a freeze-proof shelter.
  • Citrus and other subtropical plants will usually survive our cold weather if they’re planted in sheltered locations such as the south side of a structure. Otherwise in temps below 26 degrees, cover them with cloth and carefully provide a heat source such as a mechanic’s light or poultry heat lamp under the cover.
  • Rain or irrigation on a regular basis helps make landscape plants less sensitive to cold temperatures. But contrary to popular belief, eleventh-hour applications of water just before the freeze don’t reduce freeze damage. To be effective, plants must have the time and growth conditions to absorb the water and integrate it with the salts and other materials within the plant cells that protect it from cold.

The idea that the heat storage capabilities of water will help prevent freeze damage has a basis in science. However, the amount available from a last-minute splash of water is not an adequate substitute for proper planning.

By Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Guest Author

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