Evangeline Parish County Agent Todd Fontenot (center) is pictured here after speaking at meeting of the Ville Platte Rotary Club last June. He is pictured here with former Rotary President Peter Strawitz (left) and with his host Rotarian Kermit Miller (right). (Gazette photo by Tony Marks)
A perennial freeze
With the temperatures hovering below the freezing mark over the first days of the year, area residents are questioning how the winter weather will affect their plants and gardens.
Evangeline Parish County Agent Todd Fontenot with the LSU AgCenter provided some answers and also some recommendations to protecting against more Arctic type conditions.
“We dropped into the low 20s for some extended period of time, so we do expect there to definitely be some damage on tender or herbacious perennials like elephant ears, birds of paradise, and begonias,” Fontenot said. “These tender vegetation are going to have freeze damage unless they were protected.”
“Those that were not protected are going to have some freeze damage,” he continued. “We don’t know how bad because there’s no exact guide to say this happens or doesn’t happen, but we were cold enough to where there is going to be definite damage on tender herbacious plants.”
Fontenot then offered his agency’s recommendation to protect these kind of potted plants. “Our recommendation is to move all tender vegetation in where it can be protected and kept above 32 degrees whether its by covering them, putting in a heat lamp, or bringing them indoors.”
Other recommendations from the LSU AgCenter include watering the plants and using mulch. “If it has been dry, thoroughly watering landscape plants before a freeze may reduce the chance of freeze damage,” the center said in a report. “Many times cold weather is accompanied by strong, dry winds. These winds may cause damage by drying plants out, and watering helps to prevent this. Wetting the foliage of plants before a freeze does not; however, provide any cold protection.”
“For plants growing in the ground, mulches such as loose, dry materials like straw or leaves can help protect them,” the center continued. “Mulches are best used to protect below ground parts crowns, or they may be uses to completely cover low growing plants to a depth of about four inches. If mulch is used as a complete cover, it should be left on no more than three days.”
The county agent went on touch on the weather’s impact on other kind of plants. “The woodier type plants like hibiscus are a bit heartier, but they’re still going to sustain some damage,” he said. “Our ornamental shrubs like azaleas should be fine for the most part.”
He continued, “with citrus trees and fruit trees, fruit should have been removed from all of them because, if people left fruit, they’re going to have fruit damage from the freeze.”
Fontenot advised further on the weather affecting area citrus trees. “According to LSU AgCenter, temperatures in the mid to low teens for five or more hours is really necessary to kill trees,” he stated. “I don’t think we really met that. We didn’t really get to the mid teens for a long period of time. Now, temperatures in the low 20s for more than five hours will definitely damage the fruit and can cause damage to the trees. Again, we don’t know to what extent.”
The LSU AgCenter suggests protecting citrus trees from the weather by covering them and also advises that the less hardy citrus trees are more affected. Citrus trees from more hardy to least hardy are ranked as kumquat, satsuma, orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime.
With citrus trees, Fontenot also provided recommendations. “The recommendation is not to do anything too hastily,” he said. “As far as citrus trees, don’t start pruning all branches right now because it’s a wait and see. If any of the branches have died, don’t just start pruning off branches, stems, and limbs. People should wait to see what emerges in the spring and then, from there, take off the dead foliage.”
People in the area enjoy planting in their gardens winter crops such as radishes, lettuce, peas, potatoes, spinach, and other leafy greens. According to Fontenot, these crops should have withstood the freezing conditions. He said that the weather, “may set them back a little bit.” He added, “there may be a little leaf yellowing, but, for the most part, most of the winter Cole crops are going to withstand this freezing conditions.”
As far as area yards, Fontenot advised that grass is dormant right now. “There really shouldn’t be any damage to them,” he said. “We would have had to stay cold and freezing for a lot longer for there to be grass damage.”