Monday, 30 May 2016

Winter has Arrived: Batten Down the Hatches

This morning marked our first light frost of winter. Clearly, it is time to make preparations to protect tender plants, both young and old. Below are some of our solutions to sustaining sub-tropical plants through the cold nights and early mornings of a temperate-climate winter.

  • Portable Mini Greenhouse. These come in varying sizes from walk-in models to smaller two-shelf ‘tents’. We find them excellent value, not only for the cold-protection they can afford to seedling plants, but also because of the tidiness of having our horde of potted plants in one location, and the convenience, come time to water.

Curry Leaf seedlings protected by a mini greenhouse
  • Frost Cloth. In our experience, frost cloth is excellent for covering and protecting sensitive potted seedlings, such as jackfruit and starfruit seedlings. In addition, during the first cold season of our ‘Malaysian’ garden, all of our baby in-ground fruit trees were wrapped in frost cloth. Not a single plant was lost to cold… Frost Cloth can be purchased from leading hardware stores. It is an inexpensive, lightweight, white material, designed to protect plants and shrubs from frost damage. Cared for, the cloth can be re-used in succeeding years. For best protection from the cold, try to ensure that the blanketing material is not touching the leaves of your plant.
Use frost cloth to protect your sensitive, young plantlings. Here, it is protecting a ripening jackfruit...
  • Fruit Covers. In an earlier May entry, ‘Jackfruit. As Winter Nears’, I posted about precautions taken to protect the developing fruit with banana bunch covers, recycled rice bags and frost cloth. It is far too early to claim success with this experiment. However, the early signs are encouraging. Some fruits, such as papayas, will overwinter very well without protection.
A variety of covers for jackfruit
  • Trunk Wraps. Last winter (2015) provided a number of frosty mornings. Two of our trees, in particular, a jackfruit and the magnificently-fragrant chempaka (Michelia x alba) were heavily defoliated on their southern, cold-wind-facing side. In our previous three years, we had not experienced such heavy leaf fall from any of our sub-tropical plants. Because of this event, both trees have taken a long time to recover. In fact, in the case of the chempaka, its wonderful blooming during the warmer months was inhibited and its canopy is still very sparse on the southern flank. In an attempt to combat any possible repetition of this problem, we have wrapped the lower trunks of our highly-prized trees with newspaper. Accordingly, we have wrapped the chempaka, our jackfruit trees, two young frangipanis and one of our mangoes.

  • Warm Micro-climate. If all other solutions are unavailable, seek out a warm micro-climate for your sub-tropical plants…. A sunny, protected corner of a garden or a warm window for a potted plant. Do you have a cat? Where your companion suns herself on cold winter days is probably an ideal day-time location for a prized, but tender, sub-tropical plant.
A Pisang awak banana sucker in a warm, sunny location

  • Liquid Fertilisers. While the cold weather prevails, it is not necessary to fertilise heavily. However, plants will benefit from regular applications of a liquid fertiliser such as fish or seaweed emulsion. These fertilisers will promote root growth through the hard times ahead of the spring growth flush.

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