Scrambling for cover

Gardening in a mild-winter climate is great, but I think it makes us much more paranoid about the weather than people in areas where cold weather is a given. 330 days out of the year we don’t worry about frost at all; 30 days we worry but it amounts to nothing; 5 days we worry for good reason—especially people like me who constantly push the limits of our zone.

The first two weeks of January were unseasonably warm. In fact, we had 10 days of 60°F in a row. Now a cold front from western Canada has arrived and temperatures have plummeted. On Saturday afternoon, it was 66°F. This afternoon (Monday) the expected high is 49°F. But it’s really the night-time temperatures that matter. A low of 24°F (-4°C) is forecast for tonight. While that is nothing that would raise the blood pressure of gardeners elsewhere, it strikes fear in our hearts here. Citrus trees are in danger of sustaining damage, not to mention the many tender plants I grow!

Front porch
The plastic tub with various epiphytic cacti is coming inside for the night

I covered my succulent beds and tender potted plants yesterday but the six frost blankets I had weren’t enough. I happened to be near a Home Depot yesterday, but they were in spring mode already and didn’t have any frost blankets left (“but we have some burlap,” the guy in the garden center said). Luckily, Lowe’s appears to be more with it, and I was able to buy a few extra blankets today. This allows me to protect additional plants, such as our sago palm and an equally slow-growing Tasmanian tree fern.

CENTER: Tasmanian tree fern (Dicksonia antartica)
LOWER LEFT: Australian sword fern (Nephrolepis obliterata)

In the first draft of this post I wrote that we weren’t going to worry about our citrus trees. However, after some discussion we decided to protect our lime tree, which is quite exposed on the edge of our driveway. We draped a few strands of incandescent (non-LED) holiday lights on the branches, wrapped the trunk with a packing blanket, and then wrapped several old sheets around the tree.

Wrapped lime tree. Esthetics was definitely not foremost on our mind.
I’m sure Christo would have done a more creative job!

In addition, we asked our daughters to pick all the limes and oranges off the trees because citrus fruit tastes pretty nasty after a hard freeze.

Remaining limes from our tree

I just ran the drip irrigation for 10 minutes or so to lightly water the perennials in the ground because moist soil retains more heat than dry soil. And I’ll be glued to the weather sites for the rest of the day. With any luck 25°F won’t materialize after all, but I’m not holding my breath. It already feels cold outside at 3 pm!

Protecting hose bibs with whatever materials are at hand.
The potted aloe is Aloe striatula. It’s very hardy, able to take temps as low as 15°F.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012


  1. Sending warm thoughts your way! I know we've been cold the last few days but nothing as drastic (comparatively) as what you're looking at. I've actually mentally been composing a post about "what if" our winter gets no worse? What if all the plants that are still alive, that shouldn't be, make it all the way to Spring? It's a crazy thought and I don't want to tempt fate by actually posting about!

  2. @Loree, thanks! Only fellow gardeners who are equally plant-obsessed understand the traumas we go through :-). I don't want to jinx you, so I won't make any what-if comments about your winter!

  3. Weather from western canada eh? Well, we've had flurries for a couple days now (1cm of snow ahh!!) and who would have thought it would effect you guys. I never knew it got as cold as -4 there, truthfully we've only seen as low as -6 this year, for a very limited time. The best thing about reading these blogs is seeing how others deal with winter gardening. A nice post.

  4. Sago palm is actually quite cold-hardy... I think it will take mid-20's with no problems. Mine did before I remembered to bring it inside.

    Good luck tonight!

  5. Nice job Gerhard! Those Christmas lights come in handy and amazing how much heat it produces, enough to give extra protection to plants. We saved a Phoenix canariensis using those lights!


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