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Freeze Doesn't Guarantee Floral Garden Tragedies

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 23, 2013 at 04:38 AM

Last night's freeze brought morning heartache to many a Bay area gardener, but voices of experience advise against throwing in the trowel just yet.

"Don't start yanking anything," says Kim Hutton, botanist at the University of South Florida Botanical Gardens. "We won't know the damage for a couple weeks. A lot will come back."

Freda Lowkey, a Pasco County Master Gardener, says her Land O' Lakes yards look grim. But she has learned it's too early for tears.

"Last year, I had a lot that just looked totally dead" after the big freeze in January, she says. "I left 'em alone, and by spring, I was getting new growth. I used to get upset, 'Oh my God!', but now I know some will come back."

Hutton and Lowkey both plan to keep the covers on their plants and the containers indoors for tonight.

It shouldn't be quite as bad as last night, says Jennifer Colson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

"We do still have freeze warnings for Hillsborough and Polk counties, and hard freeze warnings for Pasco County," she says. A hard freeze is 27 degrees Fahrenheit and lower.

Eastern Hillsborough, which gets colder than western, may get down to about 25 degrees. Eastern Pasco may get down to 23. The coastal areas should stay in the mid 30s.

Last night, Tampa saw 30 degrees for six hours, based on information from the MacDill weather station. Vandenberg Airport went down to 24 degrees, and sat at 27 degrees or lower for six hours.

Home weather stations in Palm Harbor and Oldsmar reported lows of 29 degrees, and Lutz, 24 degrees.

At the Botanical Gardens, Hutton, head gardener Kevin Slaughter and two volunteers spent five or six hours Tuesday covering nine acres of plants.

"We used everything," Hutton says. "People visiting today will see an array of sheets, shirts, all kinds of stuff."

They wrapped the tropicals and the trunks of specimen trees and covered begonia beds with sheets topped with plastic. Watering the ground before covering gives even more protection, she says.

Still, she expects they'll be seeing some damage.

"The garden will look quite a bit different in a few weeks. We have a lot of replanting to do," Hutton says. "And I had so hoped to be at our best for the Super Bowl visitors."

Lowkey used Kansas cloth, a canvaslike material, to cover some of her most tender plants, but it's heavy and requires stakes to hold it up off the plant.

"I ran out of stakes," she says, so she didn't cover her favorite plant.

"I have a big, big lily of the Nile. All the leaves are mush," she says. "I had a beautiful, beautiful bougainvillea blooming. It kind of looks like someone took a blowtorch to it. "

Despite such floral tragedies, Lowkey and Hutton advise area gardeners to wait, watch and hope. Don't cut things back and don't pull them out. In a few weeks, you may see new growth.

But if you don't, think positive.

"This is an opportunity to replant, rethink the garden," Hutton says. "That's what we do."


Reach Penny Carnathan at pcarnathan@tampatrib.com or (813) 259-7612.

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