How My Plants Are Tolerating the Freezes

I could be complaining about the early and prolonged cold here in Florida, but I'm honestly just excited to see how my plants respond!  Last year it snapped to twenty degrees right away, but this winter the not-so-hard freezes have been gentle enough to let me see which plants perform the best.  To the left is a lone penta flower, left over after several nights of hard freezes.

I finally made it to The Rainforest Garden in daylight, so now I'm able to share some photos of how everything fared to date in this unusual La Nina winter.  It actually snowed here a few days ago, and lows have been down to 25F!

First off, just about everything in the ground survived the twenty degree nights of last winter, so I'm not too worried about losing much this year.  I also have some other advantages this time around:  I used a thick mulch of fallen sycamore leaves around the bases of the more tender plants, such as the heliconia 'costa flores'.  Also, I've planted more evergreen shrubs and trees this time around.  They not only provide shelter from frost, but also provide greenery when the tropicals are getting freeze dried.

These 'Kiwi" ti plants were hit by frost like the rest of the cordylines, but I've found this variety to be a bit tougher than the other kinds on the market.  It bounced back in spring before anything else did!  The other ti plants have damaged leaves, but are still pushing out new growth for the time being.  Even in a worst case scenario, I know that all my cordyline fruticosa hybrids will return from the roots in a pinch.

This photo's a little blurry, but its still worth sharing! The birdbath was frozen solid at two in the afternoon yesterday, and you can see how hardy the gardenia 'Mystery' and passionflower 'Lady Margaret' are turning out to be!

This peace lily is still pushing out new growth, thanks to the bottlebrush tree above.  Last year the peace lily died to the ground and returned, so I'm sure it will do fine this year.

A little shelter from palmettos has helped to protect the philodendron, but the white bird of paradise is looking bad. :(

I happen to like the crumpled shape of agave desmettiana's frozen and papery leaves! The growing point, stem and offset are still firm and green.

Alocasia 'California' is one of my favorite plants in the garden, and it's one of the toughest too. It's still pushing out new leaves, even though its below freezing!

Here you can see the tattered leaves of my false cardamom ginger, but if you were to brush away the crispy leaves you would find undamaged growth up to knee height!  The everglades palm to the left is doing great, despite the fact that its habitat is in south Florida swamps.  The dry foliage of the 'Willi's Gold' ti plant in the background is golden in the sunlight.

Here you can see some of my protective measures. The big cardboard box is protecting a papaya plant quite effectively; its still putting out new leaves in there! I've weighed it down with tiles over the flaps to keep the box from flying away.  I used to pretend that boxes were rockets as a kid, but one gust of wind would really make the cardboard shuttle 'lift off'!  The tarp is covering a collection of bromeliads, though the hardy types I grow scarcely need such protection.  My dad insists on using the tarps though, and I'm all for taking no chances, especially since he's willing to help out. Thanks, dad!

Overall, a lot of my tropicals still remain alive above the ground, despite the damage to outer leaves and stems.  The firespikes and pentas kept blooming during several freezes while they stayed close to the ground, and even the heliconia has new growth under the mulch of leaves.  The small Christmas cactus plants that survived last winter's cold are still doing peachy under a light mulch of pine straw. 

It might not look like much, but I'm thrilled to know that everything's doing so well!  I've been reading various reports of much colder temperatures as far south as Hillsborough county, so I am definitely not complaining, lest it get even colder.  Even though I know everything will survive, I really hope this is the worst of it!

Here are some other freeze related posts...
How to Keep Tropical Flair Through Winter
5 Ways to Fight Cold Damage
I Survived the Freezes of '09 and '10!


  1. I know, right? The garden's been through much worse...

  2. I pity your plants, but at least they are not buried in snow like other places in the US and Europe.

  3. This reminded me of Jeff Pavlat's garden here in Austin, and he does some interesting things to keep his plants warm including boxes and blankets. Here's an episode of Central Texas Gardener with a feature on overwintering landscape plants:

    The vice president of The Garden Club of Austin has a ~200 lb staghorn fern hanging from one of her trees, and it's not hardy here. She blankets it with old comforters, quilts, etc. and keeps it going through the winter. I've only seen pictures, but it's pretty damn impressive.

  4. Speaking of holiday cacti. I have had an easter cactus mounted in an oak for about 5 years now, no protection and very little supplemental irrigation and yet it still blooms every year like clockwork! This is in a borderline 8b/9a climate.

  5. Your preventive measures seemed to be working. Im sure your plants will bounce back as soon as the weather gets warmer.

  6. I think the most impressive part of this post is your attitude, so apropos for someone pushing the boundaries of hardiness. I hope everything rebounds as you predict. Oh and thanks for the reminder of how good Passion Flower vine can look in the winter...I need to move mine in the spring! It's currently stuck in a corner that doesn't get enough light and I don't get to enjoy it.

  7. Hi Steve...I do believe we are becoming accustomed to cold winters. At least we know from last year that the garden will return again come spring. Good luck and best wishes to you for the new year.

  8. I think you're right in saying that we have learned from last year that all will be well by springtime. But, snow? Really!

    The courtyard area is looking really good. Can't wait to see how it fills out this spring.

    Happy New Year Steve!

  9. Andrea:
    I don't pity my plants one bit! They'll be fine. :)

  10. NotSo:
    That info is so helpful! I love hearing about other's success stories in the realm of overwintering tropicals. :) I'm going to bed soon but will have to check out the video after work tomorrow.

  11. m.krishna:
    How cold does it get? I also have easter cactus growing epiphytically on a hunk of tree fern trunk, and it does great. Curious to see how it does outside with protection though.

  12. Getting sleepy, so I'll holler at the rest of ya'll tomorrow. Goodnight!

  13. Um...I'm still scared...we still have Jan/Feb to go!!! I just planted a nice sized vegie/flower garden for my Mom too! We will be protecting it with our lives, I'm afraid! The lowest it got here though was about plants all look happy, thank God!!!

  14. Not sure exact temps but let me put it this way, my queen palms no longer have leaves... :)

  15. Everything is looking pretty good. I am fairly pleased so far also. All my succulents in the garage are in need of a little water though so I will have to be careful not to give them too much. And the tarps I have covering things needs to be adjusted a bit but otherwise doing well. Leaves are a great insulator. Last year I had my whole front planter covered with them. It also keeps weeds away.


Please feel free to share your questions, ideas and suggestions!