Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Permanent PVC pipe framework erected over citrus can be draped with frost cloth or bird netting.

Protect Tender Plants from Cold

Monitor weather forecasts and if frost is predicted, be prepared to cover susceptible plants such as citrus, bougainvillea, hibiscus, natal plum, and annual flower and vegetable gardens at sunset. Native plants are usually okay, as they are adapted to our temperature extremes.

Move Containers
Put containers with frost-tender plants in sheltered locations. I situate my containers near cement block walls that absorb the sun's heat during the day and release it at night, which creates a slightly warmer environment.

Cover Plants
At sunset, cover frost-sensitive plants. Use old sheets, blankets, or burlap. You also can purchase special frost cloth that provides protection down to 20 degrees F. Never use plastic because it can increase frost damage. The point is to trap heat radiating up from the soil, so the drape should reach the ground and extend as far out as the plant's drip line. If possible, provide a framework over the plant that prevents the covering from touching the plant's foliage. Don't gather and tie the drape to the trunk or stem, because this would eliminate the heat trap.

Remove the drape in the morning before temperatures underneath rise to 50 degrees, which could cause the plant to break dormancy and start growing. New foliage growth is especially susceptible to freezing temperatures. Alternatively, some frost cloths can stay on the plant for longer periods of time. Read the manufacturer's specifications.

Protecting Citrus
It is okay to wrap young citrus tree trunks and leave the wrap on during winter. Wrap multiple layers loosely for best insulation. The wrap should completely cover the trunk from the base up to the lower branches.

Frost Damage Repair
If a plant does suffer frost damage, don't prune it until new growth starts again in the spring. Although the blackened, crinkled foliage may look unsightly to you, it is providing protection from future frosts for the rest of the plant. It may grow again next spring. Often the damage looks worse than it is, so be patient! If it doesn't regrow, then prune out dead wood in the spring.

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