With nearly a third of our mango trees blooming already, this winter may not be a stress-free a time as I would like. Christmas is ahead and so is that first big drop in temperatures. This is time of year that can be really tough for all the tropicals and especially the low drought and low salt-tolerant plants. So perhaps a few rules of the Green Thumb are in order.
Having a low of 70°F in December does tempt even the good gardener in each of us to just keep planting. The smarter choice is to hold off until late February when the danger has passed. The really tender plants like orchids should be brought inside when the temperature dips below 50°.
Wait until February or March to fertilize lawns, citrus and tropical and flowering plants and don’t thin or prune any cold sensitive plants until late February.
If we do experience that seriously cold temperature drop, there are several things you can do to better help your plants make it through with minimal damage. Hopefully you selected the most protected locations for your most temperature sensitive plants and fed them appropriately during the warm months. For the small shrubs cover them with thermal plant blankets or old sheets. Pipe insulation is an easy to apply covering to the trunks of trees to protect the graft area. Even cardboard boxes will work. Do NOT use plastic unless you mount on a frame so it does not come in contact with the plants. Plastic transmits the cold temperatures directly to the living material where ever it touches the plant.
Irrigation is perhaps one of the most important components of helping your plants make it through cold weather. The intent of using a coating of water to protect cold-sensitive plants results in partial or total kill of plants even natives. Water the soil NOT the plants and be sure it is done many hours before the sun sets. The water keeps your plants well hydrated—they need that just like we do– and the moist soil will give off additional warm during the night helping create a warmer microclimate around your plants.
Don’t be alarmed if you see older leaves turning yellow and falling. Many of the plants are changing their leaves in a deceptively slow process. But do check to make sure there are not mites feeding on the leaves.
Now enjoy the cooler weather. Take walks—check out your neighborhood for the best landscapes, visit a local botanical garden or nature center and see all the wonderful flowers and fragrances we get to enjoy this time of year.