Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
January, 2011
Regional Report

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Protect frost-tender, non-native columnar cactus tips with styrofoam cups.

Learn From Jack Frost

Our recent bouts of freezing temperatures resulted in black, shriveled foliage on tropical plants such as bougainvillea, lantana, Natal plum and ficus trees. I know it may look unsightly, but control any urges you may have to trim it away. Let the dead leaves remain on the plant until temperatures warm in spring, then prune back to where new growth is sprouting. Often, the damage appears worse than it is, so if you wait to prune, you won't cut away more plant material than necessary. Equally important, that dead foliage provides insulation for the remainder of the plant in case temperatures plummet again.

Take this opportunity to look around your yard and see which plants, if any, suffered frost damage, and note where they are located. It can help you better site plants in the future. Most established native plants will survive cold dips, but it's helpful to place frost-tender, non-native tropicals in sheltered locations.

For example, in my neighborhood, I noticed that yellow dot (Wedelia trilobata) groundcover growing beneath a tree canopy stayed green and healthy, while its outer edges that sprawled beyond the overhanging branches had been hit by frost. It demonstrates how plants can provide a "natural frost cloth" for other plants, if temperatures aren't too severe.

There are other sheltering options you can consider. Southern and western exposures are usually warmer. Block walls, hardscape surfaces (patios, sidewalks) and even rock mulch or large boulders collect the sun's heat during the day and reflect it back later, warming the surrounding area. Areas in full sun throughout the day are warmer than shadier areas.

However, if you grow deciduous fruit trees (apples, apricots, plums) that are early bloomers and bearers, try to situate them in a cold spot in your landscape. This may seem counterintuitive, but it may prevent them from breaking dormancy too soon, which can result in emerging flowers and fruits being killed by frosts.

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