Wrapping Up For Winter


This is what a cold front – a real cold front – looks like in South Florida. This may not be a Buffalo, NY-worthy cold front and it certainly can’t compare to the wickedness of the weather in California or Alabama, but by South Florida standards, this weekend’s weather was cold. This sort of cold – the kind that comes with wind chills and falling iguana warnings – isn’t very fun.

Having experienced South Florida summers for about eight years, I can honestly say that I live for winter. That’s a sentence I never imagined myself ever saying. For much of my life, I lived for spring and summer and fall.

Winter here, though, means everything to me, because a SoFlo winter is like all of my favorite northern seasons rolled into one. It’s perfect for gardening, taking long walks, and catching up on all of those outdoor chores that simply aren’t enjoyable in the oppressive heat and humidity of a SoFlo summer.

It’s also prime orchid-blooming season.

This cold winter’s tale begins on Christmas weekend, during which forecasters predicted the season’s first major cold front would be strong enough to make it down the entirety of the Florida peninsula. Central and northern parts of the state were issued freeze, frost, and wind chill warnings.

In South Florida, we were told this would be our coldest Christmas in 33 years! Still, there weren’t any warnings or advisories for my local area. In a completely non-scientific study, I learned that several gardening friends were either leaving their gardens be or taking precautions to protect their orchids, bringing potted ones inside and wrapping those attached to trees. One friend even hooked up heat lamps to keep her orchids warm.

I opted to leave my orchids alone, to let them fend for themselves.

After three days of cold temperatures (40s at night; 50s during the day), gray skies, and a mist that stung the skin, the cold front shifted and we heated up. By New Year’s, South Florida had record heat — and in the course of that holiday week, cold damage became evident.

Tropical ginger leaves curled.

Mussaenda flowers and leaves withered and dropped.

Orchid buds — so close to opening (as seen a few pictures up) — fell to the ground.

This brings me to this mid-January weekend and another strong cold front. The same warnings went up for northern and central Florida, but – although this was expected to be a stronger albeit sunnier cold front – my area was advisory free.

I, however, wasn’t taking any chances.

I brought all potted orchids into the garage. Then, Joe and I wrapped the mounted orchids with towels, careful not to break or crush the flower spikes and flowers. The orchid pictured below, the first to bloom this season, is now a towel.

Once wrapped, Joe stapled the towels to the palm tree trunks. For the two vanilla bean orchids I have planted in the ground, I wrapped them in some old shirts, buttoning the buttons and tying the sleeves like a hug to keep the little ones safe and warm.

On Friday afternoon, the front arrived with deepening gray skies and a squall line of wind-whipped rain. That quickly came to an end, but the wind continued and the temperatures steadily fell and forecasters issued a frost warning for South Florida. During the overnight hours, temperatures were in the 40s – but the wind made it feel like it was in the 30s.

Some plants, like these gerbera daisies, seemed to take the temperature change in stride.

I’d like to interrupt this blog post with a quick word about temperatures. I know my northern gardening friends are rolling their eyes at this moment, especially at seeing a gerbera daisy in January. Many would gladly welcome a 40-degree January day. That being said, though, I can assure you that 40 degrees in Florida feels much colder than 40 degrees in New York. Even 50 degrees here can feel bone chilling, with Joe and I wrapped in blankets, while a 50-degree day in New York in January would be a day spent outside. I’m not sure if this is the result of our age or our blood acclimating to Florida heat or. . . Actually, all I know is that each time a cold front happens, Joe and I have this same conversation about how an identical temperature in two locations can feel so different.

Now, back to the post.

Despite the brush with cold and the damage, some plants, like the mussaenda (above) have already started to rebound. Even the bananas are doing well.

As I write this, we are in the fourth day of temperatures cooler/colder than normal – although, temperatures today (Monday) are a few degrees warmer than over the weekend. This warming trend is expected to continue throughout the upcoming week.

In the meantime, I’m eager to unwrap the orchids and bring the potted ones out from their hiding places. That job, though, will have to wait until tomorrow, when temperatures will be more moderate. As before, it may take a few days for the cold damage, if any, to be visible.

I’ll keep you all posted.

Wherever you are, please stay warm and stay safe.

11 thoughts on “Wrapping Up For Winter

  1. This was so interesting to read, Kevin! And your photos really fascinated me, with the towels and shirts holding precious cargo. I really do understand what you’re saying about the way you experience COLD in South Florida. I have some of the same misgivings when I attempt to discuss any weather challenges here in Southern California. It’s more than just the temperature. Our gardens, our beloved plants and really the general landscape isn’t prepared for untypical extremes, and it takes enormous work to protect whatever we can. These weather condition extremes are generally very worrisome! You’ve impressed me greatly with your coping skills. I cannot imagine the fragility of those orchids, and you’ve done right by them. Now, stay warm! 🙂

    • Hi Debra… speaking of extremes… I think it’s becoming more and more difficult to see what’s actually extreme, because we seem to have experienced extreme for so long. In the approximately 8 years I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed changes in temperature. Summers are hotter and longer, while rain seems to happen more frequently in our dry season… while rainy season can have stretches of dry weather. As you know, hurricanes have gotten stronger. I think your part of the world is a perfect illustration of the consequences of extreme weather. As for those orchids… they can handle temperate cold. In fact, I think they love it. It’s the not-so-temperate cold that can do the damage, especially when those periods are in rapid succession. On the plus side, iguana activity comes to a halt. It’s the little things…

  2. There was one cold snap when I lived in south Florida that did my carambola in, and it only got to 42* I believe. I was really upset about that! I’m in Houston now and while technically 9A, the weather the last few years has been so tricky that it’s hard to plan for winter anymore. We’re currently in a warm spell and spring is wanting to happen but February always blows up in our face.

    • Hi Misti. I think you hit the nail on the head with the difficulty in planning for winter. I remember when I lived in zone 6/7 on Long Island, NY… mild winters would have daffodils and tulips starting to emerge — and then the February blizzard would come. Fortunately, bulbs don’t seem to mind that. Tropicals, though, are a different story. Part of me had reached a point that if a plant dies, it dies — and I have the excuse to go shopping or to redo a bed. The orchids, though, I wait all year for their winter flowers and watching them succumb to the cold doesn’t work for me. Have a safe February.

  3. Good grief! Kevin you must receive an award for your efforts! Golly, is Mother Nature so out of sorts to affect SoFlo?
    Here in central VA, the winter so far has been dry-ish, with only one week of nasty 20F nights. Rain is welcomed, as I have newly planted shrubs.
    The rest of my winter so far, has been spent gazing out my windows while recovering from one hip replacement on October 24. I came home the next day, and in 25 days I was up and fully functional and without pain in that hip for the first time in years!
    So happy am I that I am now scheduled for the other hip replacement on February 6. I want my life back, and if I must let the surgeon have his way with me for another 1.5 hours, I shall.
    Since I was forced into retirement last year due to hip pain, I plan, like you to spend my days puttering in my gardens and finding joy wherever I can discover it.
    Beyond my property, the world is insane, and I find such solace with the wild birds, foxes, and gardens. Of course the home improvements are well documented on my blog…Keep well, D.

    • Hi Diane. I’m so glad you’re healing and have felt relief from the hip pain — and best of luck with your next surgery. There’s a lot to be said — especially these days — about the joys of puttering. Just the other day, I was driving in my car listening to NPR and it happened to be a broadcast of the debt ceiling and the politics & consequences. I couldn’t change the station fast enough as I looked for a paper bag to breathe in & out of. As soon as I got home, I checked out of all media and puttered.

  4. LOL! I was rolling my eyes (like all your Northern friends). Also in awe of your dedication to your plants and gardening. Enjoy the winter my friend! I think of you whenever I crack the car window on a frigid morning!

    • Hello, My Dear Friend… I thought you’d be rolling your eyes. LOL. I’ve reached a point where I will say to Joe on a 70 degree morning, “I think I have to put on a long-sleeve shirt. It’s a little chilly.” By the way, on those very cold mornings, it’s shorts and heated seats. 🙂

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