By Lesley Arrandale, Master Gardener
Preparing for winter should have been no problem, given that we know we will have at least one or two cold snaps, when our temperatures can dip into the mid to upper 20s. Twenty-four to 48 hours before low temperatures are expected, water your landscape if it hasn’t rained recently (a simple rain gauge is a useful tool). The day of the anticipated overnight frost or freeze, move potted plants to a sheltered area and wrap them completely, including the pot as roots are particularly vulnerable. Cover tender landscape plants, ensuring that the covering reaches down to the ground so it can trap the warmth from the soil. Any gaps and the warm air will simply rise up and out of the covering while cold air seeps in. It’s important to anchor covers if a windy night is expected (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/mg025). Commercial frost cloth is the ideal choice, but old sheets or blankets will do. Some of us use plastic, but it must be removed the following morning before the sun has a chance to overheat the plants; they can also suffer cold damage if the plastic has made contact with foliage.
Winter vegetables will be fairly safe, unless the freeze is more than a few hours. Brassicas — collards, cabbage, broccoli and the like — are often sweeter after a cold snap; it’s certainly true of Brussels sprouts.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are a number of vegetables that can be planted in January. For a detailed look at the possibilities, refer to the “Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide,” http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/vh021. This publication is a must for would-be urban farmers; even if you have only space for a small raised bed, or perhaps a large pot or two, there’s every chance that vegetable gardening will grow on you. You will find recommendations of tried and true varieties in the guide, but current seed catalogs will have more information about the newest vegetables. Noteworthy catalogs include Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Totally Tomatoes.
Vegetables like red-leaved mustards, Swiss chard with colorful stems, frilly-leaved carrots, and various kales are attractive enough to incorporate into flowerbeds. Just make sure that if you buy vegetable starts they come from the vegetable section of the nursery, and not the flowering plant area: the latter may either have been treated with chemicals that make them unsafe to eat or are ornamental varieties simply not grown to be eaten.
We are now in Eastern Daylight Time and are restricted to using an in-ground irrigation system once a week, if needed, either before 10 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Early morning is the best choice, as water will evaporate off of foliage during the day, reducing the chance of diseases. The use of a hose with a cut-off valve is permitted at any time, as is using a drip system — ideal for the vegetable garden — or watering can. For more information see: https://tinyurl.com/ycaxqway. There are allowances for watering more often under some circumstances, but the general rule makes sense. Our landscape plants have slowed their growth and consequently need less water. When our clocks spring forward, we will be back to watering twice a week — if needed — when our plants, including our lawns, are starting to leaf out again.
The University of Florida website Gardening Solutions is very user friendly, and if you enjoy reading about your areas of interest, be it native plants, shrubs, trees, or vegetables, you could start here: https://tinyurl.com/yct56umj. It will certainly help me to keep my New Year’s resolution: to make my landscape more wildlife friendly, using native plants as well as Florida-Friendly plants (https://tinyurl.com/yc3pt6jt) to supply food, shelter, and water for my non-human neighbors. Have a Happy New Year, everyone!