Help!? Freezing! What Do I Cover Cactus With?

amalgamationJanuary 15, 2007

Hi, I'm new here though I've been reading the forums for a few months now - mostly for ways to deal with the sun and heat - Oh, the irony! Everything is freezing now.

I've looked over the forums and many of you mention covering your plants, but what do you cover them with?

The last freeze we tried t-shirt material, but all of our regular plants still died. Though the cactus weren't covered that time, they were fine. Not so this time...

Today I went out and EVERY single cactus out there except for our really old barrel cactus, is either so drooped over it's nearly hitting the ground - or a few at least :( -feel like over-cooked cucumbers.

Do they have any chance of coming back?

For the last two years all of our plants and cactus have been just fine, so I am really clueless - please help?

We live near Prince & Flowing Wells (in Tucson) and there's both a Lowe's and a Home Depot nearby if you know of a certain product we could buy at either, I will happy write down the info and go right away.

Thanks _so much_ for any help!


(x-posted to the SW forum)

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The places you mentioned should sell a special covering for tender plants. I think it's called freeze cloth or something to that effect. If Lowe's or HD doesn't sell them, check around. With as many nurseries as Tucson has, someone probably sells them. Try calling Mesquite Valley Growers.

Which of your cacti were affected? If it's your opuntia that are drooping over, they might be okay. As for the ones that feel like over-cooked cucumbers, they're probably done for. Are they columnar cacti, i.e., Mexican Fence Post, Senita, etc.?

Good luck.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2007 at 11:10PM
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Hi CD,

Thanks for the info! We covered up everything last night and so far, so good...Nothing, as far as I can tell is worse off.

Well, I didn't know about Opuntia but just looked them up and yes, I think that's what keeled over and were nearly hitting the ground (they are propped up now). They're more elongated than the ones I am sure are Prickly Pears (the PP's seem just fine), tho' they are in the same family?

There's one that's really squishy now - I've no idea what that is. It's about 2.5' tall. I've stood it up again with a tall cardboard triangle all around it. You can see my bad photo of it from the top (pre-freeze) at

There are, what I think are two baby Saguaros. They are both leaning now, but I've put some support under them. One is bent quite sharply and was oozing some white liquid at the bend. It had been doing so well, too! Neither of them seem squishy yet though. Do you think there is hope?

The young Agaves (pale green - they are the kind that grow stalks with tons of baby plants on them) all have white spotting on them now and seem flimsy. They are about 8" across. The tiny one we had out there died last freeze, but these were fine at that time. The weird Americana Agave var. seem fine and sturdy still, though they are smaller (about 5" across) but they were from a real giant planted here in the 50s. I don't know if that makes a difference or not. The giant seems unhappy but like it will be ok.

All of the succulents look like they are suffering, and they are probably goners, especially the various "Jade" plants. The Elephant Jade is very squishy and completely wilted and lying on the ground.

My appalling lack of knowledge regarding cactus and succulents is showing - Though, I did take a lot of time to research our trees! They've been a real chore with bore beetles and so on, but all seem fine after the freeze. Perhaps because they are mature - circa the 50s.

We planted a couple of rescued Ocotillos several months back. They're about 4'-5'. We've covered them up near the base but worry about covering them totally since the winds have been up at night and breakage might be a problem there. I'm hoping they make it.

Thanks so much for taking time to write, it's really appreciated. I just never thought about cactus freezing. To me, it seemed like - the desert gets freezing cold at they should be ok. What an eye-opener!

Take care,


    Bookmark   January 16, 2007 at 7:09PM
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The cacti in the photos are indeed opuntia. They appear to be either Opuntia tomentosa or perhaps Opuntia ficus-indica. If they are drooping but not discolored, they should be okay. If the pads become discolored (gray and/or pale)and mushy, I would remove them. There's a good chance that the roots of the plant are okay, and it will grow new pads in the spring and summer.

The one you said is really squishy now and labeled "Unknown cactus now squishy" looks like an Austrocylindropuntia subulata, commonly known as Eve's Needle. Squishy is not good, and I have a feeling it's dead. Again, the roots may be alright, so you may want to cut off the mushy part of the plant and see what happens come springtime.

As for the ones you think are young saguaros, it would help if you could post some photos. Oozing fluid is a bad sign. It could lead to infection called bacterial necrosis, which will kill the plant.

I would try gently straigtening the plants. If the area around the bend is mushy and discolored, try cutting it out with a clean sharp knife. Some people like to sterilize the cut with a bleach and water mixture (1 part bleach, 9 parts water). Then, if potted, keep the plant indoors to let the cut dry completely.

Like a lot of the flora planted in Tucson, much of the cacti are non-native. Opuntias such as O. tomentosa and O. ficus-indica are native to more tropical and sub-tropical climates. For the most part, they do very well in Tucson's generally mild winters, but when a hard enough freeze hits, many exotic plants can suffer or outright die from the cold. Although saguaros are native, they are susceptible to freezing temps, especially younger ones. Even the mature saguaros can take a hit, evidenced by the drooping arms on some plants.

Well, sorry for the long winded reply. Good luck and feel free to email me if you have any other questions.


    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 11:51AM
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A few things to keep in mind as you proceed: Cactus are from all over the world, some are from climates that are much warmer than ours in winter and these plants cannot take these freezing temps we have been getting. Other plants can take it and much worse (some Opuntia for instance), so it can help to know the cold hardiness of the plants you have. These recent freezes are teaching you which plants you have now that are less hardy.

Also, all succulents have water stored in their tissues, it is the definition of 'succulent'. So when temps go below freezing, the water freezes and damages the tissues of the plant. This is what you are seeing now.

About your agaves: there are many different species of agave and some are much more hardy than others. Generally, plants with hard leaves (americana, colorata) are more hardy than plants with soft leaves (attenuata, desmetianna).

Maturity can be but is not always a factor in succulent hardiness. A mature Agave desmetianna will be damaged without protection.

I recommend you continue to cover your plants until this cold snap is over. Im not seeing exactly where you are in AZ and certain parts of the state are getting much colder than others. You can cover the growing points of columnar cactus with styrofoam cups. Try to keep everything as dry as possible. Dry plants can take cold better. When it warms up, you want to asses all the damage and take steps to recover what you can. You are probably looking at cutting some damaged tissue off of some plants. If you want to keep the thread updated we will try to guide you through the recovery process.

One last thing: everyone has lost something this week, even the best growers. So dont feel too badly, you are not alone. Its all part of the learning process and will contribute to happier plants in the future for you!

    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 11:52AM
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sultry_jasmine_nights (Florida 9a)

So sorry to hear about your cactus. hopefully some will recover from the roots.
I used old flannel sheets (keep several old ones just for covering plants) to cover my smaller and med sized cacti, aloes, jades, and other succulents. I also placed some clear 6 mil. plastic over the flannel sheets and secured it down with rocks on four sides. Not one of them have froze so far despite the freezing temps lately. You just have to make sure to take off the plastic during the day so they dont cook. I have lost cactus and other tropical stuff I grow, in the past, to freezing as well- happens to the best of us. I'm sure some people on this forum and other forums will trade cactus cuttings with you later in the season after the temps are up. Maybe you can replace some of what is lost that way :)

    Bookmark   January 17, 2007 at 2:31PM
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Thank you everyone! I don't feel like such an idiot now :)

We've gotten everything covered with that special "frost fabric" and it doesn't seem like anything has gotten worse since then...Even with the really low temp one night.

I checked underneath the fabric and it does, unfortunately, smell like some stuff is rotting, but for the most part, I think more will survive than originally thought, Thank Goodness!

CD - I am *all about* longwinded :) I appreciate your help and the ID of the plants. I'll try to get pics of what I think are baby saguaros and the "Eve's Needle". I really loved that one so much and it just showed up one day via birds, surely. It is pure mush from top to bottom. If I cut everything to just above the dirt, do you think anything might grow from it? The roots aren't mushy, but the *entire* plant is.

The really bent "saguaro" looked ok but the bend is almost a break and I don't think that can heal, and if I tried to cut it out, that part might make it too thin to live anyway. The other one will make it, I think. I straightened them as you suggested, with pruned tree branches that I'd just trimmed into a Y shape. That seems to be working. Also did that with the opuntias and they seem to be doing alright since covering them, but I will cut off anything that gets too mushy.

Murmanator - Thanks for the info on hardiness and the agaves. I am going to look up some photos of the ones you mentioned to figure out what my pale green ones are. They are looking pretty sad still, but they are covered now. Just crossing my fingers at this point.

Hadn't thought about the cups - great idea! Thanks too for the words of encouragement, I really needed them :) I'm sure to update because if anything needs to be cut waaaay back, that's going to scare me. Pruning - ok, but cutting way back is scary.

Sultry Jasmine Night - Thanks for your post :) I did find a bunch of that frost fabric and have put that over *everything*. If we had to cover and uncover it would take a mighty long time every day, and though I hate to admit it, both of us here are a bit too lazy for that! Though I've put the flannel and plastic into my memory bank in case any of my neighbors need to do any covering. Most of them don't have many plants but I noticed some new neighbors putting in bushes and things recently.

Trading sounds great! All I'd have some baby Agave Americana tho' and apparently those are no favorites here :P

Thanks Again Everyone!


    Bookmark   January 18, 2007 at 4:17PM
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