Monday, January 14, 2013

In Fear of the Deep Freeze

Plumeria lose there leaves in winter
The last few nights, we have experienced bitterly cold temperatures, the mercury dipping low enough to create ice that has caked car windows and the tops of flat-roofed buildings. While the temperatures have been uncomfortably cold for us, Hubby and I declare a four cat night and toss a heating blanket on the bed and are none the worse for wear. The real danger is not to us, but to the tropical and some subtropical plants that call our garden (and many neighboring gardens) home. 

The last time we had such a cold snap was in early 2007; that cold nearly killed my beloved plumeria. The green wood of plumeria is very susceptible to cold; should the water in the green wood freeze, that stem will shrivel up and die. The rot will continue down the stem of the plant until a caretaker cuts off the dead portion. Many plumeria died in the 2007 cold snap, and mine were reduced from over six feet tall to little more than stumps. Luckily, the stumps survived and lived to produce new branches. Gardeners must take action to protect frost sensitive plants when temperatures dip to 39 F and below.

The solutions are simple, but are sometimes a gamble in terms of ensuring the survival of the plants. If tender tropical and sub-tropicals are in pots, move them into a garage or shed so that the frost cannot touch them. Papi Tomato employs this tactic, moving all his plumeria (cuttings from my plants!), orchids and cymbidiums into his garage/ studio. This is the best bet for saving your plants. However, If you are unable to move the plants (planted in the ground like my plumeria) or do not have space to bring them into the garage, cover plants with swaths of burlap before the sun sets. I like to cover the plumeria by four PM. The idea is to try to capture as much warmth as possible before the sun sets. Remove the burlap the following morning and check for damage. Amputate frost damaged stems and branches so the rot does not travel toward the heart of the plant. Repeat plant coverage until temperatures increase and frost is no longer in the forecast.

Temperatures should hopefully increase in the next day or two, hopefully before there is widespread damage to the California citrus crop.

*Frost can damage or kill plumeria, orchids, cymbidiums, bananas, citrus, warm weather vegetables, fuchsia and many others. Please do your research and protect your delicate plants!

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