Protecting your Tropicals from Winter
The east coast is experiencing an unusually strong winter; even parts of Florida are experiencing snow. Listed below are quick tips that you can use to help your Heliconia and gingers survive this and future winters.
Planning in Advance -If you know your area gets cold every winter then you should have a lot of time to prepare. Plain in advance by taking these steps:
(1) Plant in the beginning of spring. Whether you can pot first or plant directly in the ground it’s best to plant as soon as the temperature starts rising. This gives your Heliconia rhizomes and ginger bulbs the maximum about of time to develop and mature before the next winter. A mature plant will have a better chance to recover from a frost than a newly planted rhizome.
(2) Plant in pots. If you pot your rhizomes instead of planting them directly in the ground then you the option of moving them. This is particular useful during winter months. You can move your potted plants indoors (greenhouse, shed, garage, bathroom, etc.) or group them next to each other-making it easier to cover with freeze cloths. On sunny and warm days, you can move them back outdoors to breath.
Short Notice - If your area it being treated with a rare frost or experiencing an unusual cold snap then you won’t have much time to prepare and the steps above are useless for this winter. Instead follow these steps which depending on the size of your collection can be completed in a day or two.
(1) Move whatever you have potted indoors or to a protected area. For the grounded plants the main concern is protecting the rhizomes/base of the clump. This can be done by laying a thick layer (about a foot deep) of mulch or straw. Even if all the foliage is damaged by frost your clump will regrow as along as the shoots are protected.
(2) The second option is to cover your plants using freeze cloths (photo above), blankets, old sheets, and towels. If you use sheets try to apply multiple layers if possible for extra thickness. The goal here is to create a micro-habitat of relative warmth. This option only works if your covering reaches all the way to the ground. Use stakes, large rocks, or bricks to keep the cover sealed and the heat locked in.
(3) If resources and time permits apply both steps by placing a protective mulch layer around the clump base first then covering the plants and sealing in the heat.
Minor Damage - If it’s too late and your plants have already been damaged, here’s what you can do.
(1) Much like mending your Heliconia from wind damage the goal is to remove the most damaged material first. Remove half of the damaged material, wait for new growth to replace the old, then remove the remaining damaged material. For details on how to prune your injured tropicals refer to our wind damage post here.
Worst Case - If your collection experienced an exceptionally bad frost and you think that your clump is entirely dead, do these steps before digging out and composting what’s left of your clump.
(1) Check to see if there’s any life remaining. Squeeze or pinch the base of the rhizome (lowest part of the stem right above soil level). If the base is firm to the touch then there’s still a possibility for new growth. If your fingers meet and the base is papery then your rhizome has rotted away. Check each base as one might have survived.
(2) If you are unsure then wait a couple of weeks to see if there are any signs of growth. Heliconia and gingers are resilient. If there is a way to survive, they will find it.
How have your experiences been with protecting your tropicals from winter? Do you have any go-to techniques?