Pasco and Hillsborough extensions offer tips for home plants
By Kyle LoJacono
ZEPHYRHILLS (Change other zone) — The recent cold snap may have made the average person uncomfortable, but things were a little more serious for farmers.
“I don’t even like to think about the cold weather,” said George Neukom III, owner of Neukom Groves in Zephyrhills. “If it gets below 27 degrees for about four hours is really bad for the trees. Right at 32 degrees usually isn’t bad, but the longer it stays cold the worst it is.”
To protect his citrus crop, Neukom runs his irrigation system on cold nights on the tree trunks. This causes a thin layer of ice to form on the tree, which keeps its temperature right at 32 degrees.
“We run 10 to 15 gallons an hour on (each tree) to protect the trees,” Neukom said. “It seems weird, but the ice insulates the trunk.
“This is the longest I’ve ever seen it so cold. It’s usually below freezing for a night or two, but I’ve had to run the irrigation system for four straight nights.”
The fourth straight night for Neukom was the Jan. 6 to 7. The temperature was down to 24 degrees on the morning of Jan. 7 at the grove.
Neukom said the worst freeze in the area he has experienced was in 1989 when he lost 95 percent of his trees. Florida Citrus Mutual’s Web site says the freeze was Dec. 22 to 26 in 1989.
“We haven’t really lost much of the fruit and none of the trees this year,” Neukom said. “If the fruit freezes we will loose a little juice, but it isn’t that bad. We have had some damage to the leaves, but hopefully we can get this cold weather out of the way early this year.”
The average person does not have worry about their livelihood during cold periods, but loosing landscaping to the elements can still be expensive.
According to the Hillsborough County Extension, preventing crops from freezing starts long before the winter.
The HCE’s Web site states, “Cold-sensitive ornamental plants should be planted in places where air flows freely and does not settle, such as low areas. The harsh effects of winter winds can be reduced through the use of screening, fences and landscape design where multiple plants are located strategically for protection.”
Once the cold weather sets in, the biggest issue is deciding which plants will be most damaged by the cold.
“Many plants don’t need protection or will experience only cosmetic damage, reviving once the weather improves in a few weeks,” said B.J. Jarvis, Pasco County Cooperative Extension Services Director. “Others may die to the ground, but have roots protected by the soil. Save effort by determining what really needs protecting.”
Both Jarvis and HCE emphasize the importance of not just covering plants’ leaves and branches, but also protecting the root system. One way to do this is with mulch.
Other tips from Jarvis are:
–Don’t use plastic when covering plants. If the plastic touches the leaves, it will cause more damage. If left on during the day, sunlight passing through the plastic will burn the plant.
–Use light fabrics, like sheets or tablecloths, to insulate the whole plant. Old Christmas tree limbs can also be used to keep plants warm.
–Do not use running water like professional citrus growers. They have special equipment and require night monitoring to work correctly.
–Cover plants early in the day to trap in more heat. Waiting until it is already cold just traps in the cold air.
“After the cold temperatures, don’t be in a big hurry to prune any damage,” Jarvis said. “Pruning actually sends a message to the plant to put on new growth. In central Florida, we can get cold weather through the month of February. The dead wood may provide additional protection from the next cold snap.”
The cold has been unusually long lasting this year, but Neukom is optimistic.
“I think we’ll be fine,” Neukom said. “I little cold is OK and that’s all it’s been so far.”
For more information on Neukom Groves, visit www.ishipfruit.com.