Winter 2020-2021 report – The temperature finally dipped below freezing this season, but not by much

Morning of December 26, 2020. The first of this winter’s freezing episodes cold enough to freeze water solid in shallow containers exposed to the sky. Frost coverings visible in background.

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.

December 23, 2020. I normally take the plastic off my greenhouse during the warmer half of the year, and only cover it in winter. The previous winter was so mild I never covered the greenhouse at all, so lots of vegetation had grown through the roof. With the Christmas freeze looming, I got busy whacking back trees so I could pull plastic over the roof of the structure.
Three days later, the morning of December 26, 2020, the greenhouse looked very different. With many hours of work, I succeeded in getting it covered, and protected the plants inside.

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).

Bananas on March 16, 2021. They got all their leaves frozen off during the two freezes, but by the middle of March they were already pushing out lots of new growth.

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).

Feb 4, 2021. You can see the frost on the sheet I used to wrap the ‘Bryces Worlds Best’ mulberry tree. But even the branches poking out turned out to not have any significant damage, and they produced lots of berries.

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.


4 thoughts on “Winter 2020-2021 report – The temperature finally dipped below freezing this season, but not by much

  1. We got totally whacked in Austin and Yoakum. Climate zone 9 became climate zone 6.
    Oh, my. All the avocados and citrus seem “really most sincerely dead”, as the Witch of the East was declared after Dorothy’s house fell on her.

    ūüė¶

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  2. Thank you for this very helpful information! I’m new to Marion County where I’m starting a food forest and wasn’t sure if this was a typical winter. My permanent losses were my katuk and Cuban oregano, but the plants were not yet well established. I’ll have to remember to take cuttings before it gets cold next year. I took cuttings of my longevity spinach, but it did fine where covered with a sheet and is coming back from the roots where I didn’t. My pineapples did fine where covered with a sheet and seem to be trying to come back from the roots where I didn’t. When my malabar spinach started dying back in late fall, I pushed some of the berries into the ground beneath the trellis and they are coming back. None of my gingers or turmeric are coming back yet, but I’m hoping they just need more time. Perhaps I should have pulled some out to save indoors. I’m thrilled with the protective microclimates under the live oaks, but I’m wondering if the starfruit planted underneath will fruit well in the dappled light there. All my berry plants (elderberry, blueberry, goji, Barbados Cherry) did fine. The loquats and guavas also seem to do well in winter here and provided some nice greenery after the rest had gone dormant. I appreciated the information you shared on your bananas since I am planting those this year. Thanks again for your informative blog! ūüôā

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    1. Hi Lauren, I’d rate this past winter as pretty mild, at least measured against the winters I’ve seen in the area (since 1997). Sounds like you’re rapidly gaining experience. I’m sure your gingers & turmeric are fine – they die down every winter, freeze or not, and they grow back in May. Of the fruits you mentioned growing, pineapple, starfruit, Barbados cherry, and guava will take damage in colder winters (even under live oak canopy) unless you throw covers over them during the freezes.
      Thanks for the positive feedback on the blog.

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  3. Thanks for the he info. I live in SW Gainesville and pushed the tropicals over the last three years. Lost alot this past winter!

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