Frost Damage Prevention Ideas?

shadetreetimDecember 11, 2007

It is getting to be that time of year that we all need to be concerned about protecting our plants from frost damage.

In fact Dave the Garden Guy on TV said that tomorrow night

will bring frost to some areas of Phoenix.

What are all of you out there doing to protect your plants?

Any comments on the pros & cons of any and all methods of frost protection would be most appreciated.

Any one ever use a outdoor propane area heater placed underneath a tree for protection? Seems like it may be a good idea, but the best laid plans.... do not always work out as planned. In addition to my established plants,

I have newly planted jacaranda trees (3), a HG orcid tree, and 20 trumpet vines that I am concerned about.

Any and all comments, ideas, proven methods of preventing frost damage would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance for all help.

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softmentor(z9/sunset13 CA desert)

I'll share my little invention that I use in mu citrus. I start with a jar candle, the little ones that are on

restaurant tables sometimes. The one's I use are about 2 1/2 inches across and 2 1/2 inches tall.
Next I take a 1 pound coffee can with one end out, the regular way you open a coffee can. Then I punch several

holes in the sides. I'd say about 6 near the top and 6 two thirds of the way down. This is with the open end as

the bottom so it can sit over the candle.
I set these out, with a little stick, maybe the size of a pencil, under one side, so that the can is tipped.

This lets air into the can for the candle.
The cans do a couple of things. First, when it's 30 degrees out, the candle wax will be so cold that the wick

will burn a tunnel right down through the candle and most of the wax won't burn. So the can keeps enough heat

in that the wax can melt and the candle burns the way it should. Next they act as little radiators. The idea

here is to heat a lot of air just a little. The heat from a candle by it's self would all just go straight up

and not help the tree. They also keep the candle from blowing out in a light breeze.
I do this with about 80 candles for 100 citrus trees. Of course being out at 2:00 in the morning, freezing my

fingers, lighting candles, is not a lot of fun, but it is a rather pretty sight.
Be careful for fire hazzard.
Do not place on or near mulch, branches, or other flammables. Clear a spot down to bare soil so that they are

clear of any material that can burn.
Do NOT put these directly under the tree as that will be to much head and will "burn" them. I place them 3 to 4

feet out away from the tree.
If you do this, you should monitor them closely. I will put a movie on, make hot tea, set a timer, and check

them once per hour after I have them set.
I got all my citrus through last years hard freeze. We had 3 days of more than 12 hours of below freezing temps

with a low of 10! one day and 2 more days with lows of 12. Nasty cold for citrus. The limes didn't fruit this

year. The trees are ok though. Everything else had fruit (see my page for a list of everything we have.
I also run irrigation water while doing this. the heat from the water helps too. Start irrigation water early,

several hours before the temp drops below freezing, to build heat in that area. If you wait until it starts to

freeze, it's to late. I start candles about 2 hours or more before temps drop below freezing.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2007 at 4:34AM
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I've been trying to find out when a frost will occur in Phoenix, but have found no sources of information on the internet. What channel is Dave the garden guy on and when? Any other sources?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 11:44AM
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sultry_jasmine_nights (Florida 9a)

I move mine to a covered patio or the garage. The ones I cant move get covered with old flannel sheets.

For smaller seedlings etc. I have 3 big iceboxes and I put them all in there and shut the lids at night and just open them up during the day. You can even water them in there-just pull the drainage plug out so the icebox can drain :)
I used to do this with my seedlings in early spring when I lived in a zone 3b and it has never failed... It a good way for lazy people like me who don't want to drag seedlings pots in and out of the house!

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 12:04PM
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For great information on protecting your landscape plants from frosty or freezing temperatures, take a look at the publication issued by the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension office.

It also has the average frost dates for the metro Phoenix area.

Here is a link that might be useful: Frost Damage Prevention

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 12:10PM
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Thanks for the responses. Softmentor's candle idea is very interesting.Where can a person buy the candles and cans that you recommend to use? I am not a coffe drinker so I don't have a supply of empty cans available. Any ideas out there?
Dave the Garden Guy has a website that lists his radio and TV times. The site is at
As always, great info from aztreelvr.
Thank you all for your help.
I covered my bougevillas and hibuscus last night with burlap. I had no damage to these plants. But the newly planted 24" box Jacaranda tree's had a little bit of frost burn on the tips. I don't know how cold it got here last night; but at 6:20 AM it was 39 degrees at my house. Dobson/Warner area. The burlap covers on the south & west facing plants had frost on the burlap.
Any other ideas will be appreciated.
Where are all of you located at and what nightime temps are you getting?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 12:58PM
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For my tomatoes, peppers and squash, I built a hoop house as I grow in containers. It is approximately 12X12X6 at the eaves and 8 at the center. I cover about the 15th of Nov and go to about the 1st of March depending on the weather forecast. For my out door plants; rubber tree, butter fly bush, gardenia, and several others, I normally cover in the evening and my wife takes the down during the day. I did loose one of my gardenias last year when the wind blew the cover off part of the wrap. I have seen people put sheet on the plant in Nov and take them off the 1st of march and wonder why they look so bad. When it warms up take the cover off and only cover it when it is predicted to be less than 40 in the night. Most plant will be able to take a couple of hours at 35 with out much problem.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2007 at 4:11PM
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stephanotis_1(8b AZ)

The temps haven't gone low enough yet to do any damage, so don't pat yourself on the back quite yet, shadetreetim. :) When the temps dip below 30'ish is when you will start to have problems with the frost sensitive plants. Last year when we had a couple of different frosts, and temps were in the 20's, was when people really had problems protecting plants. All my lantana, hibiscus, sweet potato vines, and a couple of others died to the ground, but all of them came back from the roots and grew even bigger than the previous year. I even had dieback of hibiscus in nursery pots, and those came back too. The only things I have ever truly lost were a ficus tree, that I shouldn't have had in the first place, and a pink bower vine, that was just in the wrong spot. Sometimes I cover and sometimes I don't, and I always have the same dieback and the same regrowth in Spring. You just have to live with the ugly dead foliage until it warms up.

If you HAVE to protect, you can group Christmas lights around the base of plants and also cover with a sheet, making sure the sheet goes all the way to the ground. Stakes or rocks piled on the base of the sheet to keep it on the ground are a good ides. Turn on the lights before bed, and then remove the sheets and turn off the lights when the temps rise in the a.m. Never leave the sheets on during the day or you will cook the plants or force them to start growing because they think it is Spring, and then they are toast when it freezes next.

Anywhoo, good luck, make your own choices as to what feels right, and don't be afraid to have to replace a plant or three come Spring. Also never prune the dead foliage off before the last possible frost date. It protects the rest of the plant from more damage if it freezes again.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2007 at 11:59AM
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softmentor(z9/sunset13 CA desert)

I bought my first jar candles at Costco some while back but don't see them there any more. I bought a few more this year at the dollar store and I buy wax and wick to refill my jars, much cheaper than buying new jar candles.
For cans, check out the size of a 1 pound coffee can in the store, you can buy anything that uses the similar size can. I think some juices, like grapefruit juice, come in that size. Be cautious though of cans that have a plastic coating on the inside as the plastic will burn and the fumes are toxic. If you have friends who work in an office that has a coffee pot you could ask them to save cans for you. Also Mom's with kids in school often save things for crafts and might be a place to get help finding some.
The one pound coffee can is just about the perfect size though, to use with a 2 1/2" wide by 2 1/2" tall jar candle though, so try to find cans about that size. That size jar candle should give you about 2 or 3 nights depending on how long you need to keep them going.
Remember, frost will last a little past sunrise, so don't put them out to quickly.
Also to blow them out, I use a cardboard or piece of wood about the size of a pizza box and just fan them out. They are too hot to pick up and that's too much bending over otherwise.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2007 at 6:18AM
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sonotaps(Sunset Z13, Phx)

I use Agribon 50 fabric that I cover trees with to reach the ground. Under this canopy I place a single heat lamp (250 watt).

Works on my mango trees, guavas, avocados, royal palms, white sapote, etc. Most citrus is pretty tough in Phoenix, even lemons and limes here. I didn't really have a problem with them last year when we had the 20-year killer freeze. I didn't even protect my key lime tree. It was damaged but came right back. No problem. I never protect my citrus.

I bought the roll of Agribon fabric from an Agriculture supply shop and they shipped it to my house. Good stuff and not too heavy so great for using to cover plants.

Tonight, 'mummied' certain plants in my yard for the impending frost. Yahoo weather will tell you when a frost warning is issued for the Phoenix/Tucson area etc.

I wasn't too worried last night because it was windy and that helps keep frost at bay. I didn't cover anything. Tonight is a different story. This is my first protection effort of the season.

Another option is to just use a powerful fan on the foliage, but I prefer the cover and supplying heat.

Good luck, all.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2007 at 8:43PM
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Raimeiken - z9b - Peoria, AZ

ok so I'm starting to get some things ready to protect my tropical plants/trees this winter. I'll be buying a huge frost cloth next week on eBay. I also got some C9 Christmas lights today and a couple of floodlights (90watt bulbs).

My question is, will one floodlight with a 90watt halogen bulb be enough to keep my Hong Kong Orchid tree(10ft tall) warm + the frost cloth? or should I use two floodlights?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2011 at 11:25PM
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You're probably going to need to drape your orchid tree with some Christmas lights as well, if the goal is to also protect the growth in the upper branches. Think of it as an alternative Christmas tree.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2011 at 12:11PM
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Raimeiken - z9b - Peoria, AZ

yeah I was thinking of wrapping the main trunk with lights. I might as well put some around the branches too. thanks!

    Bookmark   November 24, 2011 at 1:53PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

Anybody know how this thread on **frost** prevention got here in the middle of a heat wave?!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2013 at 12:54PM
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Spam ... the spammer bumps the thread up, GW deletes the spam, the thread stays bumped.

But dealing with frost sounds like a lovely problem.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2013 at 10:33PM
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tomatofreak(Z9 Phx USA)

Yes, frost does sound good right about now!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2013 at 7:07PM
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I don't have any tips on frost prevention, but I want to say that I've heard Dave the Garden Guy on TV before and thought some of his recommendations were "questionable." I can't give you an exact example right now, but he wouldn't be my first resource for reliable gardening information right now. No offense intended.

    Bookmark   July 19, 2013 at 6:08PM
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This is such a good thread. Many thanks for the good information.

Lately I have been a little too enthusiastic with tropical flower trees, acquired 4 new plants and started plumeria and Grand Dukes cuttings a few months ago. All of them are in planters/pots, some are on the patio under roof, others sit outside of the patio.

These cuttings seem are doing OK - none of them are dying or dead yet. 3 old Michelia Albas and two Plumerias are doing well, so the backyard patio area is a little crowded now.

I thought when we have frost, I would move these plants inside of the patio. In previous years, when we had frost I covered each plant with sheets, it was a lot of work. We often leave for work too early in the morning to remove sheets.

Last weekend I got a heavy-duty tarp (12 x 16 ft) from Costco, I thought may be I could hung it as a curtain on the side of the patio facing back yard when we have frost. Will this idea work?

In summary, I am looking for easy, lazy ways to protect potted plants. I am a clueless gardener, any suggestions, criticism to my idea are welcome.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 12:35PM
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GeeS 9b

I move potted plants into the garage when necessary. That I might do so is the only reason they are potted.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2014 at 3:54PM
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agility_mom(z9 AZ)

I put a string of the old fashioned Christmas lights on my smaller trees and bushes. When it is a still night and hovers around freezing, I just turn them on.
Then if it is going to get colder and
/or it is breezy, I wrap the plants in frost cloth and turn the lights on.
It is actually duel purpose since I can use them for Christmas decoration too.
When I use the frost cloth, if it is supposed to be cold again, I just leave it in place during the day with the lights off of course. It saves me work and has never hurt any of my plants even though I have left the fabric on for a week or so before.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 12:36PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

Where do you find those 'old-fashioned' lights? I don't think you can buy them off the shelf, can you? I was at Goodwill yesterday and looked for some but no-go.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 2:19PM
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iandyaz(Zone 9B - QC)

I bought my C9 lights on amazon. Just make sure they aren't the LED kind (usually the LED ones are called C9-like). I used them the year before last when it got to 19 degrees in my back yard for a few hours. I used a set on one of my passiflora vines, and none on my other vine. The one with the lights looked completely fine after winter while the other vine looked dead. I'm going to try them on my banana trees this winter to see if I can keep the leaves looking good without a greenhouse.

Btw- I also tried the mini normal christmas lights and they didn't seem to make a difference on the plants I put them on. There was still lots of frost damage. The big bulb (C9) were the only ones that actually made a difference.

This post was edited by iAndy on Mon, Nov 17, 14 at 22:14

    Bookmark   November 17, 2014 at 9:45PM
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That is a good tip Andy.

Just remember folks those are 7W bulbs X # of bulbs = total watts per hour. Likely worth getting a timer and have it go on at 3AM and off near 7AM for those who have to be on their way to work before then.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2014 at 4:52PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ


Thanks for the timer tip FN, probably a good idea.

Here is a link that might be useful: C-9 Lights

    Bookmark   November 18, 2014 at 7:04PM
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Several years since we have lived in Casa Grande, my husband has wrapped plastic around the whole small covered patio we have..Timer on around midnight for time to heat up before the cold hits and off around 8am..toasty and humid in there and how I start all my tomato's and some of the other spring stuff..Lovely place to have coffee in dead of winter as it's so nice and balmy, works well and is a cheap and easy to do..all delicates in pots come in over Thanksgiving weekend..

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 2:56PM
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I was exploring these. But those will do (cheaper and more festive for this time of year). Make sure when one bulb goes out the others stay on. Note you can only string 2 max of those together or you will exceed the capacity of the wiring. Find out how much spares will be...can use any 7W spare. Be sure not to burn the tree as those bulbs get hot.

[and the 50, 25ct versions]

Good point on my timer suggestion. It was for the Phoenix area (arrogant me). In areas where it gets colder faster earlier would be needed.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 3:36PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

Why did the Christmas light bring his entire family to the bar? Because when one goes out they all go out.

- Reader's Digest this month

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 5:14PM
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iandyaz(Zone 9B - QC)

Mary, those are the exact ones I bought. I bought some clear ones this year to try them out, I have a feeling they won't get as warm as the mulitcolored ones though. That's a good tip for the timer. My issue was forgetting to plug them in on some nights.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 7:24PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

I'm waffling on the idea. They are $16/pack, I need about 4 packs. We have some other lights that we bought a couple of years ago but we think they might be too warm but if I buy a cheap timer and only turn them on at 3am as FN suggests, that may work. We can timer them off or manually turn them off. I gotta stop throwing money at My Next Great Idea and see if I can work with something I already have. I'm really trying to practice prudence in spending. It's tough!! :-)

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 7:41PM
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Raimeiken - z9b - Peoria, AZ

has anyone here tried using electric heat cables? I found this tip from a banana forum. people wrap their bananas in these to keep them warm during freezing temps. Probably not directly, maybe wrap them in a layer of cloth or burlap first then the cable and then more on top of that.

I read under the question part on that page that these draw 7watts per foot.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 9:06PM
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agility_mom(z9 AZ)

I bought several strings and replacement bulbs a couple of years ago at Walmart and Lowes. I have both the ones with C7 and C9 bulbs. They do stay lit even if some of the bulbs go out.
The timer is a good idea. They aren't exactly energy efficient especially since I put them on around 25 trees. They are pretty though :)

    Bookmark   November 19, 2014 at 10:49PM
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I am still working on the theory of hanging a "curtain" on one side of patio to protect potted plants.

I think using blue Tarp is not so good an idea, because it would block lights, it means I would need to remove the curtain during the day. May be use greenhouse clear vinyl sheet would be better.

Has anyone used greenhouse clear vinyl sheet? any experience to share?

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 7:04AM
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I use the clear heavy plastic sold in rolls in the paint dept, it lets light in, is not expensive. My husband tacks it down with some 2x2's. My patio has southern exposure so warms up during the day, then the timer comes on around midnight goes off at 7-8. I had beautiful tomato's blooming and making fruit in there last winter.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 11:38AM
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Thank you so much for the information, never thought about getting plastic sheets from paint dept. It is so clever... I will look into it.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2014 at 7:25PM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

I found those C9 lights at Albertson's on sale for 50% off so $7 for a 25-pack. Score!

    Bookmark   November 28, 2014 at 5:06PM
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