Tuesday, January 17, 2012

After a Freeze, What Should a Gardener Do?

After several days of bone-chilling mornings with temperatures dipping into the low-to-mid twenties, should shivering gardeners:

a) remove all plants that look frost-bitten; 
b) prune away all freeze-damaged plant parts;

                   
c) Purchase and plant again this weekend those same varieties of trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals;
                 
d) If it isn't raining, water the garden, even if the plants resemble toast;
            
e) fight the urge to prune and plant by staying indoors, next to the wood stove.

The answers happen to be the easiest to accomplish on a cold weekend: d) and e).

Even if plants in your garden look blackened and wilted now, new growth may emanate from the base of the plant when the weather warms up in a couple of months.

New growth beneath the frosted branches of a geranium.


Pruning away the dead portions now exposes buds that may still be alive; another frosty morning could wipe out those survivors. 

The average frost season for Sacramento is about two months, primarily December and January. But temperatures below 32 have been recorded as early as the first week in November; as late as the third week in March.

So, keep the shears in the garage and let the dead portions of the plants protect the understory. It may take until mid-Spring before you see new growth; patience is key before you pick up the pruners.

Make sure your garden and potted plants remain moist. Water gives off heat, and this can protect plants from freezing, especially borderline citrus trees, such as lemons and limes. Damp soil retains heat better than dry soil, protecting roots and warming the air near the soil.

It's dead, Jim.
Some of those dead plants may be summer annuals, such as this impatiens, which took its sweet time to croak. Mornings hovering around 25 degrees can do that to a summer annual. Put them in the compost pile; plant more in the spring, after all danger of frost.

Frosty the Ficus


And what about those plants that have frozen past the point of no return? Should you replace them with the same varieties? That frozen ficus may be Mother Nature's way of telling you: "Hey! This ain't San Diego! Pick outdoor plants that can take colder temperatures!"

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