Generally a tropical or subtropical climate, Florida occasionally has prolonged periods of cold weather and/or frost. Most tropical plants should be protected in the event of a frost. Covering a plant to save it from frost is easy--just drape an old sheet, towel or plastic over the plant before sundown on the night that frost is expected. Do not use blankets or other heavy cloths, as the cover may then damage the plant by breaking limbs. Boxes may also be set over plants for protection. In advance of a freeze, plants should also be pruned and water may be sprinkled on leaves.
Hardier plants, such as rosebushes or Indian Hawthorne, do not need to be protected in colder weather.
Elephant ears (Colocasia esculenta), with their heart-shaped leaves and slender stalks, are popular throughout Florida, but do die back in the colder northern part of the state. These plants may be covered in advance of a frost, but they should be covered carefully, as the succulent stalks are fragile, and once broken, should be cut back. But even in the coldest parts of the state, this tuberous plant will come back in the spring.
Popular for its gaudy, colorful flower, the Hibiscus (Hibiscus) is another tropical that can be damaged by frost. Some hybrid varieties of this plant, which grows all over Florida and can reach 30 feet tall, can withstand temperatures down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, but hibiscus in Florida are not usually as hardy. If a frost threatens, consider cutting the plant back and then covering it with a light cloth.
This delicate perennial will flower nearly year round in Florida, if cared for properly. Impatiens (Impatiens) cannot withstand freezing temperatures and should be covered or, if you grow impatiens in pots, brought into a garage or shed when freezing temperatures threaten. Because the stems on these plants can break easily, they should be sheltered with a lightweight sheet.
If left unprotected during freezes, sword ferns (Nephrolepis) will turn brown and, eventually, the leaflets will fall from the stalk, leaving thin, brown stalks sticking up around the garden. These stalks should be cut back to allow for new growth. As sword ferns are used for hedges in some part of Florida, it may be impossible to cover the plants due to the size of the hedge. But, if possible, drape an old sheet over the plants and they should survive a light frost.