Frost & Cold Protection

Frosts are a fact of life in Central Florida. The average lowest minimum temperature for Zone 9a is 20 to 24.9 degrees and 25 to 29.9 degrees for Zone 9b. Plant City, which borders Zones 9a and 9b, experiences an average of four or five days of frost each year. So if you ignore reality, fill your garden with tropical plants and take no precautions against the Winter cold, you will eventually be very sorry.

To prepare your garden for frosts, you need to consider at least five factors:

  1. Location, Location, Location - Likely there are areas on your property that will retain heat better than other areas. Large shade trees, pools, ponds or the south side of houses can create microclimates of warmth. Avoid low lying areas where cold air congregates or areas that are unprotected from the wind.
  2. Water, Water Everywhere - Some commercial growers will continuously spray their crops during a freeze utilizing the heat given off by water as it freezes. However, don't try this at home. You would need to continuously water your plants throughout the night (a wasteful and difficult chore) and deal with the likely root fungus that will plague your plants when it is over. The other risk is that, if you leave the plant to dry off for even a few minutes in a frost, you can cause significant damage as the water turns to ice. So the best advice is to keep your plants properly watered and healthy before the frost and, once a frost warning is issued, turn off your watering system to avoid damage to the plants.
  3. Bundle up Your Overcoat - In a light to moderate freeze you can protect your plants by covering them in a light cloth. See my advice on types of material you can use.
  4. Keep on Moving - The suggestions above will not be of much help in a deep, prolonged period of freezing that can occur every five to ten years in Central Florida. If you really do not want to lose your plants or you want a relatively fool-proof solution, try containers. That way you can move your plants inside when temperatures dip into the 20's. See the Favorites page for a list of plants suited for containers.

And when the cold has past, do not forget the fifth and final rule:

Life is full of pain - get used to it. Despite your best efforts, you will likely lose something in a freeze or frost. If you are passionate about your garden, the loss will hurt. Do not respond by immediately going through the garden cutting off all the dead stems and leaves in an attempt to make the loss disappear. Give the garden a chance to recover and reveal the true extent of the damage. Also, if you prune too early (before late February), you may force new growth that may be killed off yet again in another frost. Practice patience. You will likely be rewarded with amazing regrowth.

Frost Protection

To give you an idea of the steps you can take before a frost, I recorded my experiences with a hard freeze in early 2008.

Some helpful sites with information on cold protection:

Chilling Hours

Frost Protection Materials

The Freeze of 2008