Freeze update

While last night we didn’t break the 1963 record of 24°F, we did get down to 26°F. But with hundreds of square feet of frost cloth deployed, our plants were as well protected as they can be.

In yesterday’s post I showed what our garden looked like in the daytime. At night, it looked positively surreal thanks to the wild mixture of Halloween and Christmas lights draped over the plants underneath the fabric.


Our lime tree resembled a deformed hot-air balloon that had crash-landed upside down.


Neighbors were scrambling to put their own frost protection in place, or else decided to leave their plants to their own devices. And as a bizarre coincidence, our next-door neighbor’s water main burst in the late afternoon—when temperatures were still well into the 40s. Seeing water gushing down into the gutter felt like a flash-forward to something that might happen after a hard freeze, not before! The city had to shut down the water supply to her house and she spent the night with us. No word yet on what had caused the pipe to burst.

Expectedly, I was a little anxious when I got up this morning. It was darn cold but not quite as bad as I had feared. I decided to leave the frost blankets in place because tonight will be in the high 20s. Therefore, I won’t know for sure until tomorrow if any plants sustained damage. And late tomorrow the first of a series of rain storms will arrive, which means that I need to swap out the frost cloths for plastic tarps to protect the succulents from excess moisture. (Why can’t I be happy growing pansies and marigolds? I would have a much quieter life.)

A cursory exam of the unprotected areas yielded no surprises. The usual suspects got nipped, including Salvia discolor, a Peruvian native with indigo-black flowers, and the calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica). But that happens every winter, and they always come back.

Salvia discolor
Zantedeschia aethiopica

Our queen of the night (Cereus hildmannianus) has some suspicious dark spots. It’s supposed to be hardy to 15°F so I didn’t bother to cover it last night. Time will tell if these spots are harbingers of bad news or just a temporary phenomenon.


We weren’t the only place in Northern California to experience colder than normal temperatures. Many cities on or near the coast that rarely see temperatures in the 30s had near-record lows. With a low of 32°F, Monterey actually broke the previous record for January 17th. Even San Francisco, usually relatively balmy in the winter, got down to 35°F. All in all, last night was a vivid reminder that even though we live in California, we’re not immune to the vagaries of nature. But compared to what other parts of the country are going through at the moment, such as the “storm of possibly historic proportions” hitting the Pacific Northwest, we have nothing to gripe about.


  1. Why can’t I be happy growing pansies and marigolds? I would have a much quieter life. Hahaha! You have taste, that's why!

    We've had flurries for the last couple days, tonight is going to be -6 C with more snow. It's so weird being back at work, shipping primulas and hellebores during a snow storm. Best of luck with the temperatures!

  2. Thanks, Nate. I'm tired of worrying about the weather, so whatever comes, I'll take it in stride.

    BTW, it looks like I'm going to have my first-ever hellebore bloom. Hellebores probably seem very ordinary to many people (like hostas), but here they are challenging to grow and therefore fairly uncommon. I bought a Helleborus argutifolius 'Janet Starnes' last winter, and I just found a flower bud on it. Yeah!!!

    Good luck with YOUR weather!! I loved the snow photo you posted the other day.

  3. I am so happy you are well prepared! Your space looks so festive it would have been fun to have cocktails on your patio. I am crossing my fingers for your plants. ~Debra@GardensInspired

  4. The same comment that caught Nate's eye caught mine. I remember a couple of years back being at work when it was sunny and 20 degrees, it hadn't been above freezing for days, and I was in a BAD MOOD. If one more person said "isn't it beautiful outside" I would have punched them. We zone pushing gardeners definitely have a different perspective on things.

    Good luck with your plants, hopefully you'll escape relatively unharmed. We are in a bit of an unknown up here. It was very white this morning but quickly melted. They are saying snow overnight but also lows around 37, which to my mind is a little warm for much to stick. It will be interesting. I think my friends to the north in Seattle will have it much worse.

  5. @Debra, hey, that's a good idea! We should have bundled up last night and had hot cider on the patio. I couldn't believe how festive it all looked--better than at Christmas, LOL.

    @Loree, we gardeners sure are a special bunch, always worrying about one thing or another!

    My thoughts go out to everybody in the PNW. You are getting hit so much worse than we were. I hope everybody, and their plants, are safe.

  6. You probably need overwintering film or something that provides a solid moisture and wind barrier so it can actually hold in some heat for some of those less hardy plants.

    I believe frost cloth might not be solid enough to make that much of a difference so I'm only using it on my plants that don't need much protection to get through the winter.

  7. Alien invaders disguised as bushes. Just wait...

  8. Well it looks like you did a great job! I am leaving the frost blankets on for a bit! They have been on and off for about a month because of the cooler night temps. Keep lovin those succulents they are worth the trouble! LOL


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