Even in Florida, there’s a little nip in the air in the morning lately! It means hurricane season is almost over but now we’re starting to plan for a potentially cold winter. There are a number of things you can do now to help your neem tree come through cold temperatures. (Of course, neem is still a tropical tree, these ideas won’t help someone in Wisconsin where true cold protection is critical. They’re written for people in USDA Growing Zone 9 where an occasional freeze nips tender plants but temperatures never go below about 25 degrees.)
If your tree is still in a pot, you can drag it inside for infrequent cold nights. Or, you can turn it on its side and cover it that way. Trust me, it’s much easier to wrap a six-foot tree if it’s just a foot off the ground – plus it benefits from the heat released from the soil. Be sure to water the tree and the surrounding soil well. Damp roots are less likely to sustain damage and the damp soil holds heat more effectively.
Use a blanket or towels to cover your plant, not sheets or plastic. Plastic will burn the leaves it touches and sheets breathe so much that they’re not particularly good at holding heat.
If your tree is planted in the ground, now is a great time to mulch the soil around it, providing both slow-release nutrients and warmth. For best results, use a leaf catcher on your lawn mower and mound the chopped-up leaves and grass clippings around your neem tree. They’ll turn to compost – which naturally releases heat and keeps the root zone warm all winter.
You might want to consider creating raised beds around your neem tree to hold all those clippings – by spring, it will be composted and ready for vegetables which seem to benefit from the proximity to our neem trees.
We’re also firm believers in the little stuff – micro-organisms and micro-nutrients. Good fertilizers, particularly organic fertilizers, contain sufficient levels of micro-nutrients but the typical sand found in Florida, southern Texas and California can be short on micro-organisms. These invisible critters with incredibly long names – like nitrobacillus georgiensis, mycorrhizal fungi and protozoa – break soil down into nutrients plants can easily use. Like probiotics for people and pets, plants growing in microbe-rich soil handle stress from cold temperatures more effectively. We use a product called TurfPro USA (www.turfprousa.com) regularly during the year but even more often in the winter to help our trees withstand the cold.
Please email or give us a call with questions or comments!