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There are few types of vegetables that don’t always survive winter in my zone 9a garden without protection when temperatures dip below freezing.  

In the past, I have protected my San Marzano tomato plants with success by covering them completely with frost cloth.

This year, I decided to protect my bell pepper plants.  The reason was because they were producing so well up until December and I didn’t want to have to wait a long time for new peppers.

I believe I’ve told you before that patience isn’t my strong suit.

bell pepper

Of course, this was the winter when we broke records with temps in the low 20’s for five days in a row.  I wasn’t sure that my peppers would survive, even with protection.

The upper leaves did suffer frost damage and had to be cut back.

I wasn’t sure if the base would form new leaves.  I have been checking every week now that the temperatures are warming up.

Guess what I saw last week?

bell pepper plant

Bell Pepper plant planted among garlic and nasturtiums.

There are new leaves growing from my pepper plant!  I can hardly believe that it made it through the coldest winter we have had in over 30 years.

How about you?

What warm-season vegetables have you been able to over-winter?

Every winter, we are the lucky recipients of a bounty of citrus from both family and neighbors.

lemon juice

My fruit bowls and pantry are full of blood oranges, grapefruit, and lemons.

Citrus generally ripens during the winter and the cold snap that we had last week had many people picking the citrus fruit from their trees so that the fruit wouldn’t be damaged by the frost.

The problem arises that either I have too many lemons in winter and none in the summer unless I want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on lemons.

So, what do you do?

Well, I juiced them a week ago and made “lemon ice-cubes.”

lemon juice

Then, I promptly forgot about them until I was searching in the freezer for the chicken to thaw out for dinner.

So, I took them out and put my lemon ice cubes into freezer bags.

lemon ice cubes

have three freezer bags full of lemon ice cubes, which will last me through the coming year.

What do I use them for?  Well, many of my favorite dinner recipes call for a tablespoon or two of lemon juice, and they are great for making ice tea.

You can also save the lemon zest, (just before you juice them), and freeze the zest too.

My kids love grapefruit (I don’t) and have been eating some for both breakfasts and a snack.  They have also been taking the blood oranges to school in their lunch boxes.

My friend, Becky, from Tucson, made ‘Orange Peel Vinegar’ which she uses as a cleaner with her extra oranges.

What do you do with an overabundance of citrus?

The cold weather has arrived in my neck of the woods with even colder temperatures on their way later this week.  

When temperatures dip below 32 degrees, you will find me wearing warm socks, slippers, a sweater, and cardigan when I’m indoors.  But, besides me – frost-tender plants are also affected by the cold temperatures.

Have you ever wondered why your plant’s leaves turn brown and crispy after a freeze?  Well, ice crystals form on the top of the leaves, which ‘sucks’ out the moisture from the leaf, leaving it brown and crispy.

Frost Protection

Many plants handle cold weather just fine and have no problems with frost.  However, if you have frost-tender plants, such as bougainvillea, lantana, or yellow bells, you face a choice; Do you leave them unprotected from freezing temperatures and live with the unattractive frost-damaged growth?  Or do you protect them when temperatures dip below freezing?

Either choice is fine and is a matter of personal preference.  Frost-damaged growth can be pruned back once the last frost of the season has passed (early March where I live).  But, if you don’t want to live with brown, crispy plants for a few months, then protecting your plants when temps dip below freezing is necessary.

In the daytime, the sun shines on soil, warming it.  At night, the soil releases the warmth from the ground.  When you cover your plants – the heat is captured keeping your plants warmer.

Frost Protection

Plants aren’t fussy about what type of covering you use (with one exception); old sheets and towels are usually on hand and are easy to use.  Burlap and newspaper are also useful as coverings.  Cover your frost-tender plants in the evening, making sure that there aren’t any gaps where the heat can escape.  You can use large rocks or clothespins to secure them in place.  In the day, remove the covers once temperatures have risen above freezing, and allow the sun to warm the soil again.  

Frost Protection

Don’t keep the coverings on your plants for more than two days in a row without removing them in the day since this can cause water to become trapped underneath, leading to fungal diseases and can cause plants to produce new growth that can be easily damaged by cold.

The best type of frost protection is frost cloth, which is a breathable fabric because it can ‘breathe,’ you can leave the frost cloth on your plants for a longer period.  But, use it only when there is a threat of frost.  After three days, uncover your plants during the day to allow the sun to reach your plants.

frost damage Protection

My neighbor made things worse by using plastic as a covering for his citrus trees.

One type of covering that you shouldn’t use is plastic, which transfers the cold to your plants and damages leaves when it touches the plant itself.

In my garden, I only protect my frost-tender trailing lantana which is in a high-profile area next to my entry.  The rest of my frost-tender plants, I leave alone until it is time to prune back their frost-damaged growth in spring.

So whether you cover your plants or not, the choice is yours 🙂

For more information on frost protection, check out the following link from the University of Arizona: Frost Protection

How to Protect Plants From Frost

This morning, I spent some time outside in one of my vegetable gardens with my granddaughter, Lily.

 cool season containers

While I worked, she had fun with the plants in my containers.  

 cool season containers

cool-season containers

My cool-season containers are in full bloom.  Leaf lettuce, petunias, garlic, parsley and nasturtiums are growing very well.

 cool season containers

My 1-year old tomato plants are huge.  They extend over the fence between my containers.

There is even a small tomato seedling coming up in front of the yellow container.

vegetable garden

They have taken over this part of the vegetable garden.  I admit that they aren’t particularly beautiful with the dead, brown area in the middle (the result of sunburn before I got my shade cloth up this summer).

There are a few green tomatoes on the vines, but they won’t have time to ripen before the first freeze.  So, I plan to keep an eye on the weather report and pick my green tomatoes just before a freeze is scheduled.

The green tomatoes will ripen indoors in my kitchen.

bell peppers

My bell peppers are doing just fabulous.

Last summer, I treated them with epsom salts, which helps to promote fruit production.  (You can read more about my experiment with epsom salts and my pepper plants here).

bell peppers

The epsom salts did their job.  I have over 6 bell peppers ready to be picked.  I’ll pick them before the first freeze, dice them and freeze them until I need them for making my Mexican rice.

Both tomato and pepper plants are damaged or killed in freezing temperatures in my zone 9a garden.  I will protect my pepper plants from frost by covering them with old sheets.

I will not do the same for my tomato plants because they are very large and it would be hard to cover them all.  The other reason that I won’t bother to protect them is that many gardeners report that the size of tomatoes decreases as the plant gets older.

I will start again with new plants in late winter.

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I hope you are enjoying this holiday season.  You might have noticed that I haven’t been posting as often.  Partly this is due to the fact that I get busier in December preparing for Christmas.

The other reason is that I am having tendon trouble in my thumb.  I wear a splint, which helps somewhat – but it is very hard and laborious to type one-handed.

I do have some new posts coming up though, so stay tuned 🙂

Many of you may be taking inventory of your garden after the extreme cold spell we just went through in the desert southwest.  Temperatures dipped into the 20’s, which is quite cold for us desert dwellers.  As a result, there are many plants that for lack of a better description, look brown and crispy…..

Brown and Crispy Plants

 Bougainvillea

Not a pretty sight, is it?

Well, that is the price we pay for growing tropical plants in our semi-tropical climate.  In return for the beauty these plants give us 9 months of the year, we have to put up with 3 months of ugly.

My own garden has a mix of brown and crispy plants along with some plants that are better adapted to the cold and are still nice and green.

First, the brown and crispy:

Brown and Crispy Plants

My large Bush Lantana (Lantana camara) is no longer green.  The leaves have turned brown and are now falling off.  I can now see some trash that has collected underneath as well.

Brown and Crispy Plants

Brown and Crispy Plants

My own Bougainvillea is hardly recognizable anymore.  I had hoped that the freeze would have killed the green weed that keeps growing through this particular Bougainvillea, but wouldn’t you know it…..it is still green.

Brown and Crispy Plants

My large Orange Jubilee shrub (Tecoma x ‘Orange Jubilee’) got hit hard as well.  It is interesting to note that the part of the shrub that is still green lies underneath the branches of my Cascalote tree, which offered some protection from the frost.

Brown and Crispy Plants

One of my favorite shrubs, Arizona Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans stans) was also affected by the cold weather.

The severe cold also had an interesting affect on my flowering Agave desmettiana….

Agave desmettiana

Not only were the leaves damaged by the cold, but the forming flowers on the stalk were also damaged.

crispy plants

Just a few days ago, the flowers were upright and growing quickly.

I’m not sure if the tip of the flowering stalk was damaged as well.  If it wasn’t, it will continue to grow upwards and have a few more flowers to form.

This past cold spell was extreme and so some of the damage I have seen is rather rare, like the damaged Agave.  It will be interesting to see how it does in the coming days.

Some of my tropical plants weathered the cold very well, including my Gold Lantana.

so green

The reason they still look so green is that they are partially protected by the overhang of my roof and the fact that I also covered them at night.

I took a drive through my neighborhood to see how other gardens fared with the cold.

brown Ficus tree

We have quite a few brown Ficus trees around the neighborhood.  You know, some people just love Ficus trees and lament the frost damage that occurs every few years when we have an exceptionally hard freeze.  But, that is what happens with Ficus trees and will continue to happen when we have extra cold weather.  

**For those people who ask me for an alternative tree, I always recommend using a Sissoo tree (Dalbergia sissoo), which has a beautiful green canopy and fares better in the cold.

Bougainvillea

I’m not sure what plant is hidden underneath these blankets, but I suspect that it might be a Bougainvillea.

Natal Plum shrubs

These Natal Plum shrubs are only partially protected.  I guess the homeowner ran out of towels?  The shrubs may end up with interesting patterns of green and brown foliage.

protect your plants

 Did you know that using plastic this way does not protect your plants from the cold?  When plastic touches the leaves, it actually causes them to release heat.  Plastic should only be used with a frame so that the foliage does not touch the plastic itself.

Although we do have our share of cold winter days, this past cold spell was extreme and so some of the damage I have seen is rather rare, like the damaged Agave.  It will be interesting to see how it does in the coming days.

You may wonder why I use tropical plants in my garden, since they do go through an ugly period each winter.  Well, if all I had in my garden was tropical plants, winter would be kind of depressing.  But thankfully, I do have quite a few plants that hold up very well to the winter cold. 

In my next post, I will showcase those plants that did weather our cold spell very well.

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?  

frost damaged

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”.

frost damaged

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.

frost damaged

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.

frost damaged

This Bougainvillea enjoys protection from the eaves of the house.

frost damaged

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.

Lantana

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.