Plan to prevent freeze damage

 In General

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! 

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  • Enid

    Thank you for the information Plan to Prevent Freeze Damage. I just placed an order. I live in the Central Valley, Tulare CA; and though we don’t get snow, it can freeze; so, any tips for winter care are helpful for me. I have been using 100% Neem Oil from a local green grower shop, for the health & safety of kids, pets, the environment & me! so I thought, why not see if I can grow a Neem tree in my yard that I have been landscaping.

    • Vicki

      Hi Enid,

      Even with tips to prevent damage from cold, I’d still wait until your last expected freeze date to put it in the ground. Leave it outside in a three- to five-gallon pot you can bring in for those occasional cold nights and then when you plant it, you’ll have a large rootball that is much more likely to survive a freeze. (Our trees here came through five nights at 25 degrees in 2010 — they all came back from the ground as giant neem bushes!)

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