Plants Need Attention in Winter, Too
Cover but don’t smother shrubs and perennials when days are short
Many homeowners and landscape managers want to know when their plants will need protection from the cold. Depending on the plant, the point of freezing is a good rule of thumb.
It is worth noting there is a difference in the terms used for cold weather conditions. Frost, freeze and hard freeze all describe different circumstances.
Frost occurs when water vapor freezes on surfaces. It usually happens on clear nights with still air and can happen when reported air temperatures are above freezing.
Freezing is when cold air moves in and causes temperatures to drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This condition commonly involves low humidity and wind, making drying out a big problem for plants.
A hard freeze is when temperatures dip below 28 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. Some tropical plants will survive a few degrees below freezing for very short periods, but extended periods of freezing or heavy frost may require a heater used safely in combination with a plant covering.
The risk of losing plants to freeze damage is compounded during the hectic holiday season. People are busy, schedules are disrupted and the distractions, pleasant thought they be, may cause homeowners to miss a critical freeze alert in the media.
The holiday distractions are a good reason to prepare now for the problem weather likely to come later.
Plants in containers can be moved indoors for the holidays and incorporated into the interior décor. If outside, cover plants entirely without crushing. Heavy blankets are great insulation but only a good idea on the sturdiest of plants.
Remove the covers if the temperature is above 55 degrees the next day.
Adding color to the home landscape is possible with the use of many “cool-season” annuals. Most are exotic species, but there are some naturally occurring natives which brighten the area. Under pine trees, common blue violets add azure tones. Viola sororia, the scientific name for this native plant, provides a stark color contrast to the leaf litter and pine needles where it thrives. This delicate herbaceous plant is an early bloomer with inch-wide blooms that are typically bluish-purple. These violets are self-pollinating perennials that flourish in the filtered light under tree canopies. The heavy mulch layer in forest settings provides the consistently moist soil and ample organic matter for successful growth. Seed heads form in the late summer and early autumn and are scatted by birds, animals and weather events. The Roundleaf Bluet (Houstonia procumbens), sometimes called “Innocence,” may be seen peering through dead grass and pine needles. This tiny white flower is about the size of a dime and appears in clusters. The blooms have four evenly spaced petals and prefer filtered light and heavy mulch, like the violet. This perennial is native to the lower southeastern U.S. and gradually fades away as the days become warmer.
Patent leather beetles
The cooler months on the Emerald Coast see limited insect activity, but a few do persist. One such hardy species is a beetle known scientifically as Odontotaenius disjunctus. Commonly known as a Bess bug, the Jerusalem beetle or the patent leather beetle, it is a member of the superfamily Scarabaeoidea, which has only a few members found within the United States. Its home territory ranges from Florida to Canada’s deciduous forests. The easily recognizable beetle can grow to more than an inch and a half in length. They are a shiny coal black with a small horn between their eyes and club-shaped antenna. One survival key to this beetle is what and where it eats. Patent-leather beetles like to eat logs of certain trees, mostly the deciduous varieties, such as oaks and wax myrtles. Wood inhabited by these beetles is usually well decomposed and readily crumbles when handled, falls or is moved from its settling site. Adult beetles inhabit fallen trunks and limbs, provided the wood is large enough to support the original settlers and the extended family. Using its large mandibles, the homesteader cuts into fallen logs and creates galleries where beetles will live and reproduce. Many patent leather beetles live together in close colonies. Adults commonly live over a year, prospering with the ups and downs of the thermometer. Harmless to humans, the patent-leather beetle is considered beneficial because it breaks down dead wood into a form usable by plants.