Freeze warning

sautesmomNovember 23, 2010

Well, looks like I am going to be spending this afternoon finding my old Christmas lights and sheets, grouping my Gardenias and citrus around my pepper plants still in the ground, stringing the lights and and covering them from the frost warning we have this Thanksgiving week.

Sigh. Good news is I am home this time--last year I lost several plants because the big freeze came on suddenly while I was out of town!

Bad news is I once again missed the window for geting my tulips in the ground, and I will have to do it in the next few weeks, in the freezing cold and waterlogged clay soil.

Winter in California--gotta love it!

Carla in Sac

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Do you mean to say that you're using Christmas lights beneath your frost blankets to protect your plant children? Have you done it before? How do I know I'm not making them too hot? Is there an article about that somewhere?

My husband wants to protect our peppers this year, and let them winter over for once. So he built a frame over the raised bed, that can support a tarp. We also put some potted plants under it. I wonder if that's sufficient, or if I should put Christmas lights under there too?

    Bookmark   November 23, 2010 at 4:13PM
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If you don't put lights in, the temp inside the blankets will only be a couple of degrees higher. That works at about 31 or 32, but once you get into the 20's you risk losing all your tender plants. You have to use the old Christmas lights, the new ones don't put out any heat. And although I try every year, I've only had 1 variety of peppers make it through hards frosts--Marchand. That variety is a star, though, I had one Marchand plant keep going 7 years, until last year when I was out of town during a hard frost and it croaked :(

I can't afford actual "frost blankets" for all the things I have to cover, I use regular ol' sheets and binder clips to make little tents over the tops of my trees in pots and other plants. And yes, hang the Christmas lights low to middle height inside the tents, make sure they don't touch anything.

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   November 23, 2010 at 4:56PM
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Thanks for answering, Carla, this is useful information!

Yep, there was ice on the frost blankets this morning. It was 30 degrees out at 7:45. It's supposed to get even colder tonight!

Darn, I think my husband threw out all the old Christmas lights just last year. I wuz against it, (now I know why!) but I have to let him win sometimes. That was his time.

Maybe I'll ask around for some old lights. How old do they have to be? They can be the little ones, right? They don't have to be the big old-fashioned ones that are like night light bulbs, do they?

Wouldn't it be best just to lay the lights on the ground around the plants? Heat rises, so why not start it as low as possible? (also because the cold air sinks)

You would not believe what my husband did to protect our peppers and potted plants. He built a tent of tarps and inside a little house of foam core insulation. As I deconstructed it this a.m., I put my hand in, it was about 55 degrees in there!

He's worried about the peppers, but I care more about the flowers in the front yard, to keep it looking nice over the winter for once (the dormant roses look bad enough). Right now I have canna lilies still blooming (under the canary island date), and a butterfly bush and calla lilies and snap dragons and primroses, a wallflower, a Gaillardia and lavender and ornamental kale. I wish I knew exactly what needs protecting and what doesn't. I doubt if it'll get colder that 27 or 28 degrees. I know the callas won't die but I want them to stay pretty all winter. These things are spread out all over the yard, so I can't build such a tent, I have to use the frost blankets. But it may not work without the Christmas lights. How cold does it get in Sacramento?

    Bookmark   November 24, 2010 at 2:36PM
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peggiewho(z9 Ca)

Very exciting that peppers can be perennial. I didn't know and didn't care. This summer I started cooking with more interesting peppers then bell and I have been missing out on great flavors. Maybe a potted pepper with herbs would be nice? Fun idea!
Snap dragons and primroses, wallflower and ornamental kale are built for this weather. Gaillardia are best planted in the fall, it gains strength over the winter to bloom next year so it's pretty tolerant. Lavender I don't deal with because I hate the color brown. The coastal areas probably have enough moisture in the air that it's a nice plant. Give up on the cannas and callas. Cut them off at the ground and give them a rest because it is a losing battle. By spring you can have big snap dragons, primroses, wallflower, ornamental kale and Viola. They need to be in the winter sun and will gain size when ever we get a little sun. I have been moving plants for the last month to be ready for this. I don't know what bits the dust if we go low and stay low but this quick low with a sunny warming day is ok. I have some marginal containers pulled up tight against the south side of my house and took many containers in.
We have a citrus hedge that I will protect with Xmas lights if we get a run of 20* freezes this winter. I won't try to protect the big trees but will be protecting the graft. As long as the truck and graft live I will eventually get my trees back. I would put the lights right up tight on the trees trunk and wrap them. As for pepper plants I don't know but it is seems very festive to have Xmas lights on the pepper plant. You might be a zone warmer then the Sacramento area, we got down to 30* and my impatiens and coleus look very sad. I watched the a hummingbird check all the pots, NOTHING, then went to a feeder. I will start brewing up more go juice for them. Those mean little birds are really fighting today. I think I get other peoples birds in bad times. No problem for me but my clientele doesn't like new comers.
You should also try planting Paludosum Daisy. You can buy them cheap in a six pack and they grow to be a 12' bush that is a great back drop for our other winter annuals. They will also re-seed and come up here and there among the dormant plants. They hate heat and fade away when summer comes. Poppies and Columbine and gee's no where to stop.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2010 at 3:37PM
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kerrican2001(z9b CA)

Is it worth spending the electrictiy on keeping peppers through the winter? They are usually annuals for most Californians and are so cheap to plant fresh in the spring, that it seems not worth it. The same for seasonal flowers in the front. Why not switch to primroses for the winter, or Iceland poppy, which do great this time of year?
As for citrus, whether or not you need to bother with frost protection depends on your variety and you microclimate. We never protect ours and they come through light freezes unscathed. Especially if you've got tough ones like meyer lemons or mandarins, you won't need to bother.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2010 at 12:46PM
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Since you only light up the bulbs when the temps approach the low 30's, and since that only happens a few nights a year for me, I can't think my electricity costs will go over $1.00. Obviously if I lived in Minnesota, it would be a little different! :)

Carla in Sac

    Bookmark   November 26, 2010 at 1:41PM
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Lazy gardeners, abandoning your plant babies to the freeze; how could you? In zone 9b even! You could keep your plants from freezing there by breathing on them.

Well, it's a matter of choice. Love the callas and keep them looking great all winter, most years (once in a while a freeze surprises me, then I'm sad, and my garden reflects it). In dry season, it's hard to give the callas enough water to keep them happy and they eventually go into dormancy, then come back gang-busters with the rain in October. Brand new, beautiful lush green leaves, big white lilies for winter arrangements. In my sunny-site garden, the calla reigns as a winter plant.

Where I live it only drops below freezing a few periods a year. We plant in the fall for bigger and better plants the next spring and summer, but then they do better if protected from freezing. Otherwise, plenty of them die! With our cool summers many plants (especially peppers!) often don't put on a lot of growth in one season. It's discouraging to nurse peppers along all summer (no use planting them earlier, they don't grow at all), then have a 10" tall plant in the fall with a couple peppers. So DH wants to protect them this year, and see if they bear earlier and more peppers for us. No electricity needed (unless we get a record 23 degrees, but that only happens here once a decade). It's good to know about the Christmas lights option.

Pepper plants, at $4.00 plus tax for a six pack, or for ONE 4" plant, along with everything else, adds up. It's cheaper to protect the perennials from a few cold snaps a year. The frost blankets can keep the plants up to 9 degrees warmer, and they last for years. I just lay them over the plants, maybe put rocks on the corners so they don't blow off. Old sheets would work nearly as well. Tarps being heavier, we provide support besides the plants.

It's hard for me to go out in January to take care of my roses, if the garden looks neglected. My not yet reached goal is to have a really beautiful winter garden.

Primroses; I'm trying one (again!) this year, and it's limping along. But from what I read, it needs protecting too. We put in some Iceland poppies, but they're not blooming yet. Maybe I don't put them in early enough, but the warmest and sunniest part of our year is usually autumn.

Does anyone have a wildprettii echium? Mine is from Annie's Annuals. This is my first year growing it. Looking forward to that big spike of red jewels next year. How does it handle frost and freezing, and winter rains? I'm reading widely varying info. How about your perennial status? Mine were looking so good, 3' tall, blooming away, but I didn't cover them, the first night, then they suffered; I read they're damaged (or lost?) at 27 degrees.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2010 at 2:20PM
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I am from the valley as well.. That idea saved my coconut palms.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 9:33AM
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Great minds think a like! From my experience it actually works for light frosts. Coldest it got where I am is 29f, but it had froze a few more times after that as well, just not as cold. Each night I had put out a high and low recorder. On the coldet night (29f), the low read 39f. Now it kept the temps above the actual outside air temps by a fair amount. However thats only 7f above freezing, and my coconut palm would probably not recover. Not to mention any other plant worth protecting.
Thats not bad at all. Even though bananas will come back every year here after going dormant, I bet this could allow us to pick tree ripe bananas. I love CA! Good luck everyone

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 6:11PM
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