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One of the benefits of growing vegetables in zone 9 is that we are able to grow vegetables all year long.  

However, despite our relatively mild winters, warm-season vegetables such as  peppers and tomatoes can’t handle temperatures when they dip below freezing.  So just before freezing temperatures hit, I run out to the garden and pick off all our tomatoes and peppers before pulling out the plants.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with doing this – I’ve done it for years.


I allow my green tomatoes to ripen indoors – click here to see how.


I then dice my green peppers, place them in a freezer bag and keep them in the freezer where I can use them whenever I make my kid’s favorite Mexican rice for dinner.

A few years ago, I decided to try to overwinter my tomato and pepper plants instead of pulling them out. 


This is what my tomatoes looked like with no frost protection.  That was no surprise.

But the next year, I decided to protect my tomatoes & peppers by covering them with old sheets when temperatures dipped below 32 degrees.  

I even went one step further and hung an outdoor light underneath the sheets.  

To my surprise, both my tomato and pepper plants came through the winter just fine, with a small amount of frost damage, and I had an early start to the growing season.

It was a lot of work though – having to cover them and uncover them whenever temperatures dipped below freezing.

Also, that winter was a relatively mild one and temperatures never strayed below the upper 20’s.  However, we do occasionally experience temperatures that dip in to the low 20’s and in that case, protection or not, the peppers and tomatoes would most likely die whether or not they were protected.

So, do I still try to overwinter my peppers and tomatoes?  

The answer is “yes”and “no”.


I do throw sheets over my peppers, but not my tomatoes.  The reason is that tomatoes are slightly more sensitive to the cold.

If we were to experience temperatures in the low 20’s, my 2-year old pepper plants would most likely not survive.  But, that is what it is like to grow vegetables – you try your best, but sometimes it’s not enough.

**Have you ever successfully overwintered a warm-season vegetable?**

Freezing temperatures are coming tonight and forecast to last for the next several days.


Take a drive down the street in your neighborhood, you will probably see landscape plants covered with assorted sheets, towels or frost cloth.


Those that don’t protect their frost-sensitive plants such as lantana, bougainvillea, yellow bells, orange jubilee or hibiscus will soon have plants that look like this…


In most cases, you do not have to cover your frost-sensitive plants when temps dip into the lower 30’s.  

There is nothing wrong with allowing the top growth of your ornamental plants to get frost damage.  You just prune it away in spring.

For those of you who don’t like the look of frost-damage, then you will need to protect your plants from the cold.

**If temperatures are predicted to dip into the 20’s – then I do recommend protecting them from frost because temps this cold can kill a plant.  

I wrote a blog post earlier this year when temps hit the low 20’s.  It talks about how to protect plants from frost (and how NOT to) along with the types of plants to protect.

You can read it here…


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I hope you are having a great week.  I must confess to being a little behind on writing blog posts this month with all the Christmas goings on 🙂

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.

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?

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?

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.

 
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.
 
 
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.  
 
 
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.
 
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

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!

As I write this, it is raining outside.  I love the rain.  I always have, even as a young girl growing up in Southern California.  

I especially like the thought of all the rain falling on my vegetable garden.

If you look closely, you might notice something growing that usually doesn’t belong in a winter vegetable garden (in zone 9a and cooler areas)….

Can you see what I have growing in the photo above that normally belongs in a spring / summer vegetable garden?
Well, if you said tomato plants, you would be correct.
Now before you scold me for planting tomatoes in a garden that sees frost every winter – I assure you that I did NOT plant any of these tomatoes.
No one else did either….
So, how did I end up with tomatoes growing in my garden this time of year?  
Well, they came up from seeds from fallen tomatoes from last summer’s vegetable garden.
I have actually had to pull up small tomato seedlings, but I decided to let 5 stay.  You may be asking, why am I letting them grow if they will be killed by frost?

I am hoping that this winter may be mild enough that they will survive if I protect them from frost.
Last week, we had several days in the low 30’s / upper 20’s.  I covered my tomatoes with old sheets and towels.  Additionally, I also put out two desk lights underneath the coverings (not letting the bulbs touch the sheets), which provides additional warmth.
The result?
Overall, the tomatoes did well.  Some of their upper leaves did receive frost damage, but the lower 3/4’s the plants did very well.
I am hoping that my experiment continues to do well.  Why?  Because I will have a huge headstart on growing lots of tomatoes.
I will continue to let you know how they do this winter. 
**In frost-free gardens, you can grow tomatoes during winter.  But, my zone 9a garden sees temperatures dip into the upper 20’s, so without protection, tomatoes won’t survive the winter.