We finally had some freezes this year. After two consecutive winters that were so extraordinarily warm they didn’t cause any freeze damage to vegetation in my location (north Marion county, Florida, USA), temperatures this season finally dipped below the freezing point. Cold enough to cause something like what used to be typical winter die-back in sensitive plants. But compared to the majority of winters I’ve seen in my experiences here in Florida (since 1996), this was an extremely mild winter.
This was the coldest it’s been here in three years, since January 2018, when temps dipped to the low to mid twenties. For perspective, I’ve seen it get to 15 F here in a cold winter. Winters for the last decade have been much milder than previously. I’m not sure if that’s an effect of the warming global climate or not, since an extreme winter cold snap can happen as a result of a wavy jet stream allowing a cold air mass to push southward, which can happen even in a context of overall rising average global temperatures. (The Texas freeze this February illustrated this phenomenon, with temperatures dropping to 11F in Houston, which is about at the same latitude I am at.)
The results of this winter on plants:
Banana plants in open areas exposed to the sky lost all their leaves to frost (but were resprouting leaves by March). All developing stalks of fruit were destroyed on these plants, so we won’t get any more ripe bananas until probably July at the earliest, whereas for the last two years, we’ve had year-round banana harvests. Banana plants in sheltered areas under evergreen oaks lost some leaf area, but maintained some green leaves right through the winter (unfortunately because of the shade, these plants make few fruits).
Chaya, which used to freeze to the ground every winter at my property, has not frozen back at all the past two winters. This year the plants froze back partially, and are now resprouting anywhere from two to four feet up. (I plan to cut them back to the ground to clean up the mess of dead sticks).
Ficus sycomorus – Several years ago I stuck a plant of this species in the ground near my house as a source of cuttings for grafting figs onto. At the time, I figured it would freeze down to the ground every winter, so I didn’t worry about how big it would get. After two years with no freezes, the plant has grown into a small tree, dominating the area. This winter it completely defoliated and partially froze back to major limbs, but it’s sprouting back now. I think I’m going to chainsaw it to the ground and graft an edible fig onto it.
Mulberries – All of the mulberry varieties I grow were fully dormant during the late December freeze, and they handled it fine. During the early February freeze, one variety, the one I’m calling ‘Bryces Worlds Best’, had broken dormancy, and had emerging new leaves and flowers. To preserve these, I wrapped sheets around most of the top of the tree. But it turns out that effort was not necessary – even the branches that poked out of my crude covering were fine, and and are loaded with fruits at the time of this writing (late March).
Ficus racemosa – I lightly wrapped sheets around the lower portion of this tree, and it froze back to where it was covered. It’s sprouting back vigorously.
Ficus palmata ‘Icebox’ This once went completely deciduous, losing all its leaves, but suffered no dieback.
Cordia myxa – The two trees I have of this species also got sheets wrapped lightly around their lower portion, and they froze back approximately to the level I covered them. They are also vigorously sprouting back.
Cereus peruvianus – I have a number of fruiting kadushi cactus plants in various locations planted out in the ground. I covered some with sheets, but even the ones I left uncovered showed no signs of frost damage.