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With all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it as a blessing that our desert gardens need little, if any attention during this month, letting us have more time for all of our numerous holiday activities.

I realize it is hard to believe that in our year-round gardening climate, that not having to do anything in your garden this month, can be a little hard to swallow. To put your minds at ease, I will get a little more specific….

Do Not Prune
(if you’re desperate, you can prune your deciduous trees)
Do Not Fertilize
Do Not Plant

For those of you “Type A” personalities who just have to find something to do in the garden, you can plant annuals or deciduous trees if you desire.  You can even deadhead spent rose blooms.  But, THAT IS ALL that should be done, and again, only if you are desperate to do something.

I have had many people ask me if they can prune their plants now.  The truth is, you can actually do more damage to your plants if you decide to prune them during the cold winter months.  The reason is that pruning stimulates new growth that is very susceptible to cold temperatures and can even lead to the death of your plant.  

Although the frost damaged growth is brown and ugly and it takes all of your willpower to abstain from pruning it, do whatever it takes to keep your hands off!  Go shopping, bake cookies, volunteer, take the kids to visit Santa or any of the other things on your Christmas to-do list.

Believe it or not, the ugly brown frost-damaged growth actually protects the branches and leaves underneath.  Some of the dead looking branches are not dead and will produce new growth in the spring.  Hang in there until early March and then you can prune back the ugly growth. 

If you just can’t stand the frost-damaged “look”, you can work to prevent it by covering your plants on nights when freezing temperatures will occur.  Materials found around your home that are suitable for coverings, include sheets, towels or even newspaper.  These materials will provide protection of a few degrees.  

For more reliable protection, you can use frost cloth (available at your local nursery), which can protect plants from even lower temperatures when used as directed on the packaging.  Be sure to remove the coverings in the daytime to allow the surrounding area to warm up again.

For more information of frost damage, how to manage it and how to prevent it, please visit The University of Arizona’s Frost Protection Publication

In the meantime, kick up your feet, drink more eggnog and relax by the fire.  We will have some work to do next month….planting bare-root roses!

You would think that living in the larger Phoenix area means that we do not get cold weather.  That is what I thought….before I moved here.  I was surprised to find that we get quite a bit colder in the winter then Southern California where I grew up.

Well, the cold weather has certainly arrived at my house.  Last night it dropped into the 20’s with two more nights of the same temps to come. 

I do like an excuse to pull out my big sweaters, but I must confess that I just love the comfort of wearing old jeans, slippers and a hooded sweatshirt around the house.  

Right now in my closet, I have two sweatshirts….one from my first college, Westmont (they have some of the most beautiful landscaping).  The other is my USC (University of Southern California) sweatshirt that my dad bought for me 4 years ago.  I did not attend USC, but my dad did and he was a die hard SC fan until his death 3 years ago.   I always feel closer to him whenever I put on my USC sweatshirt which is why I am wearing it now.

What I do not have in my closet is a ASU (Arizona State University) sweatshirt.  It is kind of sad really…..I mean I graduated from ASU and it is only about 30 minutes from my home.  **I think I need to add this to my Christmas list – what do you think about a zip-up sweatshirt with ASU across the front?

This morning as I drove through my neighborhood, I found an interesting assortment of items from my neighbor’s linen closets decorating their front gardens.

Most of us know what happens if you do not cover your frost-sensitive plants when temps dip into the lower 30’s….they turn brown.  
Bougainvillea and Lantana are some of the most common plants that will suffer from frost damage if not protected.  To be honest, it is no big deal if you do not want to cover your plants.  You just have to be okay with them looking crispy and brown until spring begins warmer temperatures.

Frost Damaged Lantana, north of Phoenix
 
Most years, I do not bother to cover my Lantana and I never cover my Bougainvillea and Yellow Bells shrubs.  But for some reason, this year I decided that I did not want to look at brown Lantana and so I covered them.
I covered the parts of my Gold Lantana that are not protected by the overhang of my house.  It is so nice to find a purpose for my mismatched towels in addition to using them for washing our cars.
Can you tell that I borrowed my son’s old bedroom sheets as well?  Kai had progressed from Superman sheets up to Transformers.
You will probably not be surprised to find that I have emptied much of my linen closet.  I have not included photos of my other covered shrubs, where I even brought out some old blankets.
Ideally, you should take off the coverings in the morning and put back on in the evening, but I am too lazy to do that and it really doesn’t hurt my plants to have them on for 2 – 3 days in a row.  Any longer then that though, I take them off during the day.   Phoenix averages 15 days of frost, but in outlying areas – including where I live, it can be more. 
 
 Right now, I like the idea of protecting my Lantana, but if we get a lot of freezing temps, I may give up and make my peace with having brown plants for a few months ;-).
Do you ever wonder why some plants go through what I like to call the “Ugly Stage” of winter when they are covered with frost-damaged growth, while the exact same plant(s), located close by do not?  Is their any possible way to avoid this “ugly stage” besides covering your plants during freezing nights?  
My frost-damaged Bougainvillea.  Not too pretty, is it?
It can be cumbersome to cover your plants each night when freezing temperatures are forecast…you have to pay attention to the forecast, rush out in the freezing cold to cover them and hope you have enough old sheets and towels to do the job….or rush to the nursery to buy frost cloth.  And, if you forget to do it for one night, all your hard work the previous nights, was for nothing…
 Luckily, there are some easy solutions you can implement in order to avoid this “ugly stage”.
 
Isn’t it amazing that there is beauty in dead leaves?
Bougainvillea grow very well in the desert, but will suffer from frost damage in the winter months.  Now, I am okay with that….Bougainvillea look beautiful 9 months out of the year and I ignore them for the other 3.  I thought this was just the way things were, until I was driving down a residential street about 10 years ago and saw a beautiful Pink Bougainvillea surrounded by frost damaged ones.  What was so different about this one I wondered?  Well, it was obvious as I looked at it’s surroundings.  This particular Bougainvillea was located underneath the canopy of a Mesquite tree, which protected it from the cold.
This is what my protected Bougainvillea looks like.  The canopy of my Palo Verde tree provides protection from frost damage.
How simple the solution was, I thought.  So, I decided to put this into practice whenever I designed landscapes, including my own.  I would place frost-susceptible plants under trees and underneath the eaves of a house where they would be protected from freezing temperatures.  I would use trees that provided light, filtered shade such as Palo Verde and Mesquite, because many plants will not bloom under heavy shade trees.
This Bougainvillea enjoys protection from the eaves of the house.
Frost damaged Lantana
The same holds true for Lantana.  Out in the open, Lantana does get damaged by the frost.  However, by placing them under the eaves or underneath a tree, they usually escape frost damage.
I designed this area and had the Lantana placed underneath the overhanging eaves of this building.  This photo was taken in January.
So, if you love Bougainvillea, Lantana or other frost-susceptible plants but have avoided using them because you can’t stand their “ugly stage” in the winter – there is hope!  Try planting them underneath the protection of a tree or under the eaves of your home and enjoy year-round green leaves and beautiful flowers.  Or just accept that they will go through their annual 3 month “ugly stage” and focus instead on your winter-flowering plants instead 😉
As this year ends and a new one begins, I would like to thank those of you who have taken the time to read what I write and have left comments as well.  

I wish for all of you a very 
Happy New Year.