The moment I've been planning for...
Tonight lows are expected to reach 27 degrees followed by an onslaught of three or four nights in the mid 20's. I'm not so worried about losing any plants, I'm just bummed out that several nights of this will be a bit of a setback to some of my palms and gingers and an early setback at that. Last winter it got even colder, but not so soon and not for such a duration. Although I have picked plants that will survive such weather, I figure it doesn't hurt to protect them anyways if only for their continued health. My biggest investment has been my cold tolerant bromeliads, so I have replanted them all close to the house's entry so they can be easily covered up. I know they're cold tolerant types, but I'm not taking any chances with five nights of this stuff.
My most tender plants are my philodendrons, monstera deliciosa, papaya, coffee, and ficus. I do not expect the coffee and papaya to make it, so I won't waste my resources and energy protecting them. Besides, the coffee was mislabeled as wild coffee (which is what I would have preferred) and the papaya was a seedling for $1.49 when I got it in May and its already almost five feet tall, so it would be cheap to replace if i decided to do so. As a side note, there is a monstrous papaya plant in Gainesville at Kanapaha Gardens (z8) with several trunks as a result of the annual freezes. My philodendrons and monstera both made it last year, and they are in the most protected spots I have, so I'll see how they do. The ficus decora was a couple bucks, is easy to find, and I have seen several in my Orange Park neighborhood that have survived for at least several years, such as the one outside Dunkin Donuts on Hwy 17. Word to the wise: don't get bent out of shape over common houseplants, spend your time protecting the bromeliad you had to get at special plant festivals hours away, or the fruit plant that gives you a nice crop each year.
I had been playing with the idea of building a cold frame to protect some plants in the back yard, but when my thoughtful dad suggested making one to protect the australian tree fern, I figured now would be the right time to make one. I also ended up making one to go over my fishtail palm, the pygmy date palms, and the surrounding shell ginger. I know that they'll recover from the cold, but it would be nice to keep them just a bit healthier and attractive than they would be if left exposed. You see, I planted everything so that eventually tall, hardy shrubs and trees would help protect the understory, but at this point the plantings aren't thick enough to give that protection. The better my plants fare this winter, the sooner they can grow dense enough to be left unattended under the canopy of paurotis palms, wax myrtle, tabebuia and bottlebrushes. Until then I had to make my own canopy.
Most people make a freestanding structure of pvc pipe that can be placed over the sensitive vegetation and covered with fabric, but we already have a solid fence as a support, and God knows we have no room in the garage for a cold frame. I made mine based on a pop-up tent by buying affordable narrow pvc pipes, slipping them over bamboo sticks stuck in the ground, and linking the tops of the poles together and to the fence with the rest of the pipes held horizontally. These are made rigid by running rope through them that is tied off at the fence and also at metal spikes that slide into the tops of the vertical poles. I then cover them with sheets held in place with zipties. The coldframe over the tree fern actually has another length of pipe tied to the edge of the sheet so it is tightly weighed down. On the tree fern's cold frame, the top is covered by one sheet and other sheets can be draped over the 3 open sides. As soon as the weather warms up, I can either remove the sheets, leaving the structure in place, or take it apart and easily put it up again in about 15 to 30 minutes. Maybe next year I'll replace the vertical poles with substantial bamboo poles to complete that tropical rainforest ambiance. I wanted to do that to begin with, since it would be a semi-permanent fixture to the landscape and would just look awesome, but it was kind of cost prohibitive. As I said, maybe next year.