Anti-Freeze For Your Plants

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We cannot deny that for major parts of our country the temperatures are starting to fall. In the next few months, it will actually be cold. Oh how we wish we could leave all the plants in our landscape out for the whole winter. Well, your wishes may be on their way to being fulfilled.

Botanists developed a spray that, when misted over a plant, will help it endure temperatures 2.2 to 9.4 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it would without the spray, depending upon the species. The spray, called Freeze-Pruf, reduces the freezing point of water inside the tissues of the plant by means of a mixture that combines five ingredients in a water-based spray formula. One spray works for four to six weeks, lowering the temperature at which damage first becomes noticeable as well as the temperature that would normally kill the plant.

Every year, Americans spend more than $38 billion on their lawns and gardens. No matter what you’re growing, a sudden frost or freeze can spell serious trouble. Soon, science could come to the rescue with antifreeze for plants.

After 21 years in the nursery business, Margaret Brown knows cold can kill.

“We keep [our] fern houses on about 28 so they can take down a little below freezing,” Brown said. Greenhouses keep Brown in business through the winter. For customers who spend hundreds — even thousands — on shrubs and flowers, the threat of a freeze is a serious issue.

“The phone rings constantly,” Brown said. “I feel like a weatherman in the fall, because everybody wants to know what the weather’s going to do.”

“At minus 6.6 or minus 6.3 centigrade, plant tissues freeze solid, and we have to deal with that solidity, that freezing,” said David Francko, Ph.D., a botanist at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Dr. Francko developed a solution that works like antifreeze for plants. It lowers the plants’ freezing temperatures and enhances the plants’ natural mechanisms to resist freeze damage.

“The ability to reduce the freezing point of water that’s inside the tissues of that plant and also, once that water freezes, to allow that plant to survive freezing temperatures [helps],” Dr. Francko said. “It can be frozen solid and still be viable.”

A freezing chamber put his freeze-proof solution to the test. Untreated, plant after plant couldn’t make it below 30 degrees. Plants sprayed with the antifreeze solution survived the freeze with vital structures still intact. “It’s like moving your whole home landscape about 200 miles farther south,” Dr. Francko said. “That’s about the effect that you get, anywhere from three to 10 degrees more cold tolerance.”

As temperatures fall, a dose of antifreeze could buy gardeners and growers a little more time and a little more green. Dr. Green expects the product to be on the market for home and agricultural use by sometime this winter.

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