In the Winter Garden with Chris Niccum
I hate winter. I’m a ‘Desert Rat’ and I love the heat and hate the cold. Many of the plants in my garden are also ‘Desert Rats’. A few hours of temperatures below freezing can cause more stress and damage than a whole summer of 100 degrees plus. When temperatures are predicated to fall below freezing there are several things that can be done to reduce the damage. Water your plants. Plants under water stress are more likely to be damaged by cold. Also moist soil holds and releases more heat than dry soil and can help to raise temperatures near the ground. Cover freeze sensitive plants to capture and hold some of the heat being released by the soil around your plants. Old sheets work great for this. Disposable paint buckets can be used to cover small plants and styrofoam cups can be used to protect the tips of columnar cactus. Frost blankets and tents can also be purchased and are very effective.
I use a combination of all of these. Do not use plastic sheeting as it has been shown to transfer cold from the outside of the cover to the inside and may actually increase the risk of freeze damage. Make sure that the frost cover completely covers the plant and is open to the ground so that the cover captures heat rising up from the ground and holds it around the plant. Don’t leave the covers on your plants for extended periods of time. A few days is generally ok but much more than that can be harmful to the plant due to reduced light and high humidity within the cover. Many plants are frost tolerant and don’t need protection. Others will freeze to ground but come back from roots in spring. I cover citrus, aloes, some cactus/succulents, potted annuals and the vegetable garden. I don’t cover lantana, Mexican bird of paradise and yellow/orange bells as they will freeze but come back from the root.