57 (November/December 1990, page 223)
Begonias and a Florida Freeze
by H. Alton Lee
The image of Florida as
a tropical, horticultural paradise is quickly
dispelled for the gardener who decides to take
up rake and hoe here. Our state seems to have
some of the wildest, most unpredictable
weather in the country.
Saturday, December 23,
1989 was a day not to be forgotten throughout
Florida. In our community just southwest of
St. Petersburg, we had the unprecedented
"distinction" of cold rain, sleet,
and snow flurries all within a period of about
Then came them freeze.
Christmas dawned with 25 degrees; the
temperature had been below freezing since
midnight. Sun finally arrived, but we also had
a wind worthy of Maine in deep winter. Florida
temperatures were in the mid-teens in Orlando,
20 degrees in Tampa Bay; even fabled Miami was
down to 30 in the city and below that in
Within days the
temperature was more or less back to normal
for late December, a 50-70 degree range. But
the damage was done. Florida looked much like
Vietnam must have looked after Agent Orange.
As this in being written, in late July (1990),
recovery is barely starting; some plants won't
But there have some
pleasant surprises. In an area facing north
but sheltered by a greenhouse wall on the west
and south, begonias were clustered in pots on
the ground and hanging in baskets. Heavy
blankets were hung and thrown over this area
and removed several days after the worst of
the cold had passed.
were Begonias egregia, 'Philfera', paulensis,
'Midnight Sun', 'Venetian Red', 'Merry
Christmas', and 'Mumtaz'. All except B.
'Midnight Sun' came back. B. 'Merry Christmas'
was the slowest; not until June did it get
serious about resurrecting.
In the same area, some
of the plants looked much worse but recovered,
and show virtually no sign of problems six
months later: Begonias pinetorum (known
also as dayi hort.), multinervia,
venosa, 'Thurstonii, masoniana,
and imperialis. B. 'Guy Savard' packed
it in later, perhaps as much from the heat
here as the cold.
The cold penetrated the
greenhouse, too. Begonias rajah, exotica,
and goegoensis are three that recovered
well. G. 'Templini', a favorite, barely
clinging to life before the cold, folded its
tents and is deeply mourned.
It has been said before,
but deserves repeating: be
super-patient with cold damaged plants.
they have a time table of their own, and it is
sometimes amazing what will resurrect to live
One thing is certain:
the need to prepare for cold. We've had so
many freezes in our area of late that some of
the work is becoming second nature - though no
Here are a few tips
which may help your begonias survive:
- Know where the rare
treasures are in you collection.
- Have blankets and a
source of heat ready, as well as hauling
and storage game-plans.
- Keep some plastic,
staples, nails and small timber on hand
for building quick shelters over difficult
to move plants.
- Long outdoor
electrical cords and "trouble
lights" that can be used in garden
areas are helpful (this assumes you
continue to have electricity, a big
problem for many electrical customers in
our area last winter).
- Keep your plants as
vigorous and well grown as possible as you
go into winter.
Here's to warmer