After the freeze

On Saturday, Sunday and Monday night our temperatures dropped below the dreaded 32°F mark. Readers in chillier climes, go ahead and mock us all you want. It doesn’t change the fact that freezing temperatures are anxiety-inducing for gardeners in zone 9 and above—especially if you’re like me and stretch the hardiness envelope a bit.

On Saturday we covered most of our sensitive plants. On Sunday, we also draped frost cloth and old sheets over many of the aloes with emerging flowers because those flowers are more prone to frost damage that the plant itself. With several aloe species blooming for the first time ever, I didn’t want to risk losing the flowers.

This is what the neighborhood looked like on Monday morning:



Frost on the rooftops and lawns is a pretty sight, but I simply don’t enjoy the cold. Nothing will ever change that.


Frost on frost cloths is fine as long as it’s on the outside:


Many plants (like this catmint) don’t mind frost and actually look quite pretty with a dusting of white:


A few leaves on this Agave mitis looked a bit suspicious but they ultimately turned out to be fine:


These are the aloes with emerging flowers that we covered on Sunday:


We ran out of material so we couldn’t cover the entire plant, just the flowers (and as much of the front of the plant as possible). The fence in the back did provide enough protection.


On Tuesday, after the cold snap had moved on, I uncovered the plants. I’m happy to report that there is no damage, with the exception of a few fried leaves on our Meyer lemon (see below).


Huernia zebrina still blooming away, even in what for us is the dead of winter


Euphorbia tirucalli ‘Sticks on Fire’ is notoriously frost-sensitive. Two layers of frost cloth gave it enough protection.


This is plain old jade plant (Crassula ovata). I look at it as an indicator plant because the leaves and flowers do get damaged at 28°F. This jade is in a pot under the palo verde tree on the edge of the driveway. It was not covered and isn’t showing any signs of damage.


Aloe dorotheae was badly damaged last year when I had forgotten to cover it. Not so this year. (It was covered.)


Banksia blechnifolia, no damage last year when left uncovered. This year it was covered because it’s right next to the Aloe dorotheae above.


Flowering aloes after I removed the frost covers


Aloe ferox


Aloe hereroensis, one of my favorite aloe species. See the beginnings of a flower stalk emerging?


On the small Improved Meyer lemon in the front yard, some leaves got fried on Saturday night. On Sunday we threw an old sheet over it to prevent any more damage.

The lowest temperature we recorded was 28.4°F on Monday morning between 3:30 and 5:00 am. The other two nights it got down to 31°F.

According to the weather forecast, the rest of December looks fine, with no more frost in sight. But there are still January and February to get through…


  1. Happy you got your plants and the Aloe flowers through this chill. Your dedication and care paid off.

    Aloe dorotheae is a sensitive one--too much rain spots it here, and in other gardens nearby it just up and died.

    Many many Aloe ferox blooming at the Huntington on Monday. They planted a bunch of new ones in the bunch-grassy area near the entrance. Mine is later than yours--just putting up the stem.

    1. I don't even know why I bother with Aloe dorotheae. Maybe because it's a challenge?

      Aloe ferox is a loyal soldier, isn't it? I'm really excited about a hybrid I got from Ernesto Sandoval at the UC Davis Botanical Conservatory: a cross between the white-flowering form of Aloe ferox and Aloe peglerae. Now THAT could be interesting!

    2. Because dorotheae gets that gorgeous red foliage? That's a good reason.

      Ferox x peglarae, cool! Peglarae has been very slow--it's in a particularly dry spot. Have two of what are supposedly the white flowered form of ferox, be a few years yet for flowers.

  2. I'm glad you came through this frost cycle relatively unscathed. We're well out of the range of frost here with no temperatures below the mid-40s yet and most nighttime lows in the 50s. The interior valleys got some frost, though - my brother was out covering his plants with sheets this week. If frost was to threaten here, I'd be in bad shape in the spare sheet department.

    1. When you live in a climate where you do get frost occasionally, you never throw out old sheets :-).

  3. I was so busy with the succulents I forgot to cover my lemon and my lime. The lemon always bounces back but the lime is a bit more tender , though it has acclimated pretty well the last few years, and covered or not has survived temps I didn't expect it to. The only other damage I had was a Kalancoe bracteata which I always bring in the house over winter and completely forgot about . It's in the garage now, looking droopy . So glad your Aloe blooms made it !

    1. I forgot about the citrus, too, but Heather threw a bunch of old sheets over our Bearss lime. It's really too big to cover effectively but it did the trick. The Meyer lemon has a few fried leaves but I was going to trim those branches anyway.

      I did cover my Kalanchoe beharensis in the backyard. I don't think there's any kalanchoe that takes much frost. I hope yours will spring back.

  4. Looks like it was worth all the effort. We got down to 31 degrees but with a windchill factor to 20ish. We covered the porch plants which are all succulents or tropical. No damage : ) Forgot to cover the coleus in our two entry pots and a few other annuals. So guess we will be replace them next week! Merry Christmas and Happy Gardening!

  5. Ok, I am laughing a bit, but more out of empathy. I don't panic at just any temperatures below freezing, because I expect them here, but I am an absolute mess when the temperature is predicted to fall below 20 (even though I should expect them here). So I'm dealing with cooler temperatures, but I understand, especially this year. I have so many things I planted this fall as tiny starts, many less than 6" tall. But there are so many, and they're so spread out (big garden problems) that I decided not to worry myself over a few potential losses. If I had more mature specimens that I knew could be damaged, like you, I might make more effort. Glad your plants made it through with minimal damage.

    1. Evan, if I lived in the PNW, I'd still try to grow plants I shouldn't, and I'd be scrambling to protect them. Like you, though, I'm looking at losses as a fact of life. Nobody can be 100% successful.

  6. What a horticultural lesson for the hood -- at least I assume they get it's for plant protection and not overnight encampments springing up around your house. The aloes look happy and unscathed.

    1. Who knows what people think about me. The only ones that ever stop to talk are people who like what we do. But there must be others who just shake their heads :-).


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