How to Protect Plants from California Winter Storm Frost


Temperatures are expected to drop into the low 30s in some inland regions of Southern California this week. So if you’re worried about the frost damaging flowering fruit trees and other tender plants, stop worrying and start watering, gardening experts say.

“You really can’t do anything [to protect budding trees from frost] Just make sure they’re well watered,” said Yvonne Savio, a longtime master gardener who led the Los Angeles County master gardener program for 25 years. “When the roots are nice and bulging with moisture, that’s the surest way for trees to get through cold temperatures.”

Savio and Don Hodel, a landscaping and horticulture consultant for the UC Cooperative Extension, said they weren’t overly concerned about the predicted cold snap, although unseasonably warm temperatures a few weeks ago led many plants to believe it’s spring and starting to bloom.

Temperatures won’t be much below 40C in most places in Southern California, Savio said, particularly along the coast, but some inland areas could start “chilling frosts” in the early hours of Wednesday and Thursday, according to weather forecasts.

On the bottoms of canyons and valleys, temperatures can drop to the freezing range (32 degrees), even when it’s in the 40s in most other areas, because cold air settles at the lowest point it can find, just like Water, says Hodel.

Fortunately, wind is expected to accompany the cold air, Hodel said. Wind helps mix the cold air with warmer air overhead, reducing the chance of frost, Hodel said. But on windless, clear nights, if you live at the bottom of a ravine, or your backyard is mostly hillside where cold air can get trapped and trapped by your house, there are a few things you can do to help the young or tender Protecting plants from cold damage.

1. Check your local weather forecast for signs of freezing

The last Yes, really a severe freeze in southern California was in January 2007, Hodel said, when a multi-day cold snap severely damaged crops in central and southern California. Most weather reports indicate whether frost is to be expected, especially in sheltered areas of the valleys.

“I always check the weather. If it’s a clear dry day with no wind and the high temp stays in the 50’s there is a good risk of frost that night. But it has to be dry,” he said, adding, “Dry air loses heat, but water holds a lot of heat. So if it rains and stays in the 50s, it will probably stay in the 40s that night because the air is so humid.”

2. Water your plants before a cold snap

Make sure your plants aren’t water stressed during a cold period. Savio and other gardeners recommend watering your plants thoroughly before a cold snap, but Hodel says the best prevention is to consistently tend your plants during the winter. Plants need less water in the winter and you don’t want to over water, but unless it has rained make sure your plants aren’t drying out.

And if you suspect frost is heading your way, break the hose out ASAP, Savio said, to give your plants a good drink and replenish their roots to withstand the coming cold weather. “And even if they can’t water before the frost, water immediately after or as soon as possible to help the roots survive any damage they have.”

3. Bring potted plants to a covered area

If you’re concerned about frost, place your potted plants under an overhang, covered patio, or in the garage wherever they have some cover, Hodel said. On still, cloudless nights, plants radiate warmth into the clear sky and can get colder than the radiant temperature. A covered patio will help return that warmth to potted plants.

Use a vented cardboard box for larger plants or a gallon milk jug to protect the seedlings (rinse the jug, trim the bottom of the jug to fit around the plants, and be sure to remove the cap , so that the plants can breathe). Or invest in Frost Cloth, a lightweight synthetic cloth that helps retain a plant’s heat.

Be careful using plastic, sheets, or heavier fabrics, as these can actually transfer cold to the sheets and cause damage, Savio said. Good news: If your plant is too big for a frost blanket, it’s likely to survive a frost without too much damage, especially if it’s been watered well, Hodel said.

4. Pull out a box fan

This week’s cold snap is expected to bring some wind, but if it starts to get chilly and the air is still, consider plugging in a fan outside. Anyone who grew up near orange groves will remember the roar of wind machines starting in the middle of the night when it got too cold. The same theory applies here, especially if you have an area where cold air can get trapped and trapped by your yard or fence.

Cold air falls straight down on a quiet night, Savio said, so a box fan helps mix it with warmer air, especially if it’s near a wall that’s absorbed heat during the day.

5. Leave damaged plant parts alone

Plants are more vigorous than we think, Hodel said. Cold-damaged plants can look bad, but postpone your pruning until March when the threat of more frost has passed. The damaged branches actually protect the rest of the plant from further damage, Savio said, and they could still recover when the weather warms up.

“People want their plants to look neat, but I tell them to just leave the dead stuff until they see new growth because the damaged tissue is a buffer against further damage.” How to Protect Plants from California Winter Storm Frost

Russell Falcon

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