Area farmers eying thermometers

Published 1:35 pm Thursday, January 7, 2010

Vernon Pigott, who has 300 satsuma trees to tend, says there is really nothing he can do about the cold snap that will push the temperatures into the teens on Friday night.

“If it would get down below freezing and stay there for a long time, you would have a problem, but if it stays there just a few hours and then warms back up, there will be a little damage but not much,” said Pigott.

Weather forecasters say Friday will be one of the coldest on record here and light sleet and snow is expected Thursday, with no accumulation.

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An arctic air mass is moving into South Mississippi.

Pigott, who farms 300 trees on three acres about three miles east of Picayune, says that he could have put in an expensive water spraying system, but it is too expensive “for an operation like mine.”

“There is not really anything I can do. Say if it got down to about 16 degrees and remained there for 24 hours, you would definitely have a problem,” he said.

Harvest season for satsumas can run from October to the end of January based on weather conditions. “Actually, a little cold weather is good for the trees and fruit,” he said.

Eddie Smith, Hancock County agent, who is currently serving as interim agent for South Pearl River County, said that residents who have citrus trees and strawberries should cover them to protect them from the hard freeze expected on Friday.

He said animals should be placed under cover or shelter if one is available and hay should be available for them to rest on. “Real cold weather can put a lot of stress animals who remain out in the elements,” he said.

He said residents should also move potted plants into a warm area if possible, and if not, they should be covered.

Smith said that blueberries and muscadines really do not need any protection right now. “They are in the process of going dormant and this cold snap will not hurt them,” he said.

“They are real hardy,” he added.

Smith said that landscape plants in the yard should be mulched heavily and watered and, if possible, covered.

“We have not had a cold freeze like this for a long time, and people tend to get a little complacent with their plants and animals and don’t realize how stressful real low temperatures can be on them,” said Smith.

Smith on Wednesday passed on recommendations by Wayne Porter, area horticulture agent with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Meridian.

Porter says that the duration of the cold snap has a lot to do with whether your plants will be damaged. The longer the temperature remains below freezing the greater danger of damage. He said precautions, however, should be taken since this cold snap is probably the worst in 20 years.

Move plants in containers inside or place a cover over them, he says. The roots being above ground are especially susceptible to damage. You might not see damage immediately after temperatures rise so monitor your plants closely after it warms up, he adds.

If you have to leave container plants outside, push them together, mulch them heavily and also cover them, says Porter.

He said palm trees are especially susceptible to cold since their growth occurs in the stems. If possible, you need to cover palms and seal the bottom of the cover on the ground with dirt or mulch to hold it down and hold in the heat given off by the ground and the tree.

Kumquats and satsumas, he says, can stand the cold if it does not stay below freezing very long.

However, they might need protection, he adds, since predicted lows on Friday are in the extreme.

Mulch all plants heavily and water thoroughly. Porter says that water as it freezes gives off heat.

Building frames around susceptible plants is best but that is not always easy to accomplish.

If you have some Christmas tree lights, not LEDs, left in some shrubs and plants, leave them there and turn them on during the freeze.

Remember if you save the trunk of any plant or tree, it will grow back, says Porter.

Also you can spray the plant with water during the freeze and that will actually protect it. You might lose a year of production, but it will save the plant.

Don’t do anything to your plants right after the freeze. Wait a few weeks so you can spot the damaged part and assess the plants’ condition. Then take steps to revitalize it, says Porter.