We have already experienced some cold temperatures here in Florida. In the next few weeks, we face our biggest threat of heavy frost and even freezing. Though we haven’t had a significant freeze event since 2009/10, if could be coming. What to do if your landscape experiences freeze damage? Glad you asked.

Don’t Panic

Dead leaves hanging from a plant don’t mean the twigs and stem are dead. The first impulse may be to trim plants back so they can recover. Let’s face it cold damage is ugly. Who wants to look at dead, brown leaves? And now it’s 80 degrees again, so why not!
Stop before you grab your pruners. We are in the “dead of winter” (laugh if you must) and more cold weather is surely inevitable. Dead outer leaves can help insulate inner and lower leaves that will be more vulnerable if exposed.

If not now, when?

Delay pruning until after the danger of frost and freeze has past, typically around mid-March in central and southern Florida. Also, don’t grab a bag of fertilizer from the big-box store and try to make the plants look better. And finally, don’t crank up the water because it won’t make them green up. Excess amounts of nutrients or water can do more harm than good, especially this time of year.

Dead twigs and leaves will be removed in the spring during routine pruning operations. For those who enjoy doting on their plants and plan to do some hand-snipping, you can tell if twigs are alive in the spring because they will produce new buds while any portion killed by cold will not. Another way to tell if a twig is dead is to try to break it off. If it snaps off, it’s most likely dead. If it is flexible, then it is most likely still alive. Trim below any dead stem tissue to desired height.