Landscaping Basics

Protect Your Plants from Cold Weather


What plants need to be protected in the cold weather? If you are located in  Pinellas County you are probably in Zone 10a. What does that mean? It means that the average minimum temperature is 30-35 degrees.  Last winter we had record breaking cold temperatures and in some areas going down to 25 degrees. With this cold brought about a great deal of damage to tropical plants which make up a large portion of the local landscape. 

So which plants do you need to protect and how can you protect them??

First off, you need to know your property. If you are near the salt water, you will probably not get a frost. The water keeps the air warmer. However, if there is wind, which is also common on the water, the wind chill makes the temperature lower and you can get burn on the leavesPlants that are in sheltered areas suffer less cold damage that plants out in the open.

Areas close to buildings are warmer than more open areas especially on the south side of the building.

Also if your property is in a lower elevation, you are more likely to get a frost. If you are up on a hill, you are less likely to frost.

How to protect your plants.

First off- if it starts feeling cold- watch the weather. Usually frosts are predicted and are not surprises. 

Containers or portable plants- If you can, bring any tender or tropical plants inside. I will give you a list at the end.

For larger landscape plants the solution is to mulch around the roots if you haven’t already done so, water thoroughly and cover with old blankets, sheets or commercial frost cover. Make sure the fabric drapes over the plants and hits the ground. The idea is to trap the heat from the ground.

If you live in Pinellas County and your temperature is expected to go below 35 degrees protect these plants:



Ti Plant
Variegated Schefflera

Ground Covers

Crown of Thorns
Blue Daze



One thing to keep in mind is that if you don’t protect these plants, many of them will die back to the ground but will recover and grow back from the base. Last year, with the record breaking cold days we had, many of the tropicals looked dead but down at the base of the plant was still life. Unfortunately, your plants look bare until the beginning of the summer. 

The moral of the story: watch the weather when it gets cold, bring in sensitive plants if possible and cover others. Don’t wait until the temperature has already dropped to cover the plants, do it earlier in the day so you collect the heat in the soil. Protect your plants, they are counting on you!!  

What to Plant in a Shady Area

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Often times when I visit people’s homes, they don’t really know how much sun or shade their yard gets. This is vital information to have for this reason: all plants are not created equal! Some plants love the sun and others prefer partial shade or even full shade. Planting a sun-loving plant in shade will produce stretched out growth with few flowers. Planting a shade-loving plant in the sun will produce burned leaves. Therefore if you are going to have plants added to your home or if you are going to DIY, you need to observe where the sun shines during the day. 


My suggestion is to make a sketch of your yard and watch the sun as it moves during the day. Check it at 9:00AM, 12:00 PM, 3:00PM and 5:00PM. Mark whether sun is shining in the areas around your house at those times. According to the South Florida Plant Guide, Full Sun would be 8 hours of direct sun, Part Sun would be 4 hours of direct sun either morning or afternoon and Full Shade would be no direct sunlight but has bright indirect light. For complete information on this, check out


Since sun loving plants are much more common and well-known, I would like to go over some plant options for part shade or shady gardens. I just completed a landscape project and the entire front yard was in the shade of an Oak tree. This was a challenge. I wanted to have different textures and foliage colors and flowers???? So here are a few of the plants I used which were interesting.

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Alpinia zerumbet ‘Variegata’ or Variegated Ginger is a spectacular plant with beautiful yellow and green foliage. It will reach 4-7’ tall and 5’ wide so give it some room. It likes partial shade.

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Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’- Red Camellia is a winter blooming variety. It likes partial sun and acidic soil. The flower is red with a yellow center. It can reach 6-10’ tall depending on pruning.

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Cordyline ‘Red Sister’ or Ti Plant are quite common in Florida and often planted in areas where they do not thrive. They prefer medium shade but will grow in more sun. They do best when planted in tight groups. The foliage is a wonderful addition to the landscape.

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Schefflera arboricole ’Trinette’ or Variegated Arboricola is also a common plant in Florida and will grow in full sun to full shade!! It is a compact grower and can be kept 2’ tall but over time could reach 8’ without any pruning. The variegated yellow and green foliage really pops in a shady garden.


Dianella ensifolia or Flax lily is a very attractive grass-like plant with green leaves and white stripes. It prefers full to part shade and will grow to 2.5’ tall and wide.

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Zamia pumila or Coontie is a slow-growing evergreen with beautiful shiny foliage. It will grow to 2-4’ and prefers partial shade. It is a nice contrast to other variegated plants.

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Neomarica or Walking Iris- This plant is very versatile growing in both dense shade or partial shade. It will bloom off and on all year. It will grow 2’ tall and wide and has a variety of bloom colors-yellow, blue or lavender and white.


Check out these plants when you are at a local nursery and use them in your shady garden.

Spacing Landscape Plants in Florida

How close do you plant landscape plants in Florida.  Most of my Landscape Design experience has been in New England and I have been known to plant trees and shrubs a little too close because I am really impatient for things to grow in. However in Florida I would be known as a person who plants too far apart!!  The difference in Florida's growing season is that plants grow about 9 months out of the year unlike the short growing season up North.  So you plant a cute little 6 inch Canna bulb and it is 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide in a year.  Given that information, spacing depends on the mature size of the plant- you need to research a bit.  Look how big the plant is going to get and space it accordingly.  Do not plant a tree 6" from your foundation or you WILL be sorry.

The above photo is of Ginger and Dwarf Natal Plum ( nice combination) but they are planted 2 feet apart.  Both of these plants will get 4 feet across and you will constantly have to prune them back- what a waste of plant material.  Give plants the proper space and you will reduce the money you have to spend in the beginning and you will reduce your maintenance and if you are a landscaper you will have happy clients!