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 It’s about to get really cold…

Well, cold for this area of the Desert Southwest.  Temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s for a few days, which is quite cold for zone 9a.

As a result, I am being asked by quite a few people about what they should do to prepare their semi-tropical plants for the cold temperatures.


The best thing you can do is to cover your frost-tender plants.  Do this in the evening and don’t uncover them the following day until temperatures are 50 degrees or above.  Recover them later in the day if another freeze is expected.

Earlier this week, I wrote about how to protect your plants during a normal winter freeze (30 degrees and above).  You do have the choice to protect your plants or not.  I mentioned that I only protect my high-profile Lantana near my front entry.

BUT, when temperatures are forecast to fall into the 20’s for a few days, I start pulling out all my old linens, including my kid’s old character bed sheets…


I cover most of my semi-tropical plants including my other lantana, young citrus tree, yellow bells, bougainvillea and pink trumpet vine.

The reason for this is that I don’t want my plants killed to the ground by the frost, which can happen when temperatures dip into the 20’s for a few days.

You see, frost damage can be cumulative with each additional night of freezing temps, creating more damage to plants.

So, if you have frost cloth – use it.  If you don’t, then start raiding your linen closet and pull out towels, sheets, tablecloths, etc.  Believe it or not, even newspaper can provide some protection.  Just anchor it down with rocks to keep it from blowing away.  (I once used canned foods from my pantry to anchor frost blankets 😉

What you shouldn’t use is plastic.

Also, if you want to protect your plants – you have do better then this person did…


What they ended up with was plants with green areas, surrounded by brown, crispy frost-damaged growth.  You need to cover the entire plant with no gaps.

Watering you plants at dusk also helps because water releases heat into the night.


If you have columnar cacti, then protect the ends using styrofoam cups.

Young citrus trees should also be protected….


So what do you do if you didn’t protect your plants and they look like this afterward?


Relax, first of all.  More then likely, it is still alive at the base and will grow back once spring arrives.

Whatever you do, DON’T prune them now!  That can damage or even kill your plant.  I know it is ugly, but it is only until spring when you can prune all the frost-damaged foliage away.

**Even if you protect your plants from frost, there can still be some frost damage that occurs.  It all depends on the severity and duration of the cold.  But, covering them increases the chance that they will recover once temperatures warm up in spring.
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.