My first "first frost" in SoCal

garden_tantrumDecember 20, 2012

Growing up in a tropical climate, we grew veggie seeds for agriculture class in elementary school year-round. This is my first attempt at a vegetable garden here in SoCal and thought since it never snows inland, nothing's gonna die of this so-called "first frost" my east coast friends talk about. I'm a total newbie at gardening where there are four seasons. I was a little sad when I went to go pick some basil to see it...well, dead-looking. Looked around some more and realized the tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are also at the same state... Dark green, almost black, nearly leafless. Morning glories are dead for sure, scarlet runner beans only older foliage was affected. Sweet potatoes, sunflowers, fireworks gomphrena and marigold were so dead there was hardly anything left where they used to be.

Thriving, however, are my irises, purple artichokes, German Chamomile, radish, dill and sugar snap peas. Some of the damaged plants I mentioned above(basil, peppers, tomatoes) still had some green leaves or some only the leaves look dead. Are any of these ever coming back from root stock? They are in my raised vegetable planters, some in pots. Or should I just pull them out and just start over in spring? If you've already experienced the frost this year, what did it kill in your garden? I started everything from seed, and I know it sounds crazy, but I will miss them.

- Isabel

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I would guess that most of the plants are gone, but if the higher parts of your morning glory survived, it sounds like it was only a marginal frost, above 29 degrees (in a radiational frost/freeze, temperatures on a horizontal or near horizontal surface can be as much as 8 degrees colder than the air only a few feet up). Some of the tender perennials you described might recover from dormant buds, but I can almost guarantee that there won't be any more fruit production.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2012 at 12:11AM
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hosenemesis(SoCal Sunset 19 USDA 8b)

Time to tear them out by the roots, Isabel. Even if they live for a few more weeks, you won't get any more fruit. In a month it will be time to start your seed for Spring! It's also a good time to spread annual seed for larkspur, poppies, red flax, and other spring-blooming annuals, so you will need the space.

I haven't been outside today because it's such a bummer to see the damage, but I had already pulled my eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes.


    Bookmark   December 21, 2012 at 2:46AM
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I had some light frost this morning, so I'm not sure yet the extent of the damage. The Stupice toms would be the biggest loss. They looked a bit dark and wilty, but are the first to get morning sun. Hopefully the citrus that I have holding will be OK as well.

The good thing about a little frost is that it will sweeten up root crops and hardy greens such as kale. The chill forces these plants to create sugars to act as a sort of anti-freeze. Like all things in the garden - you have to take the good with the bad. :)

    Bookmark   December 21, 2012 at 11:56AM
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Sorry for the late response, I've checked the box for it to notify me when I get responses, but for some reason it never does :(

socal23 - all but two each of my morning glories and scarlet runner bean survived. I guess location matters somewhat as they are potted and partially shaded by a shrub

Renee - I've already started pulling out the dead stuff, my green waste bin is full haha. I've started my bachelor buttons, but got a little bit busy during the holidays. Visited friends and compared what's dead in our gardens ;) feeling less discouraged.

mrclint - you are right, my beets are doing really well, some even ready to harvest. Whatever survived is really liking the weather and its fun to see what else is flowering and fruiting. What a curious thing when most are dying, but important for me to learn more about seasons and timing.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 7:39AM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

There's a difference between summer loving vegetables and winter vegetables, and most of what you planted is better used once it warms up again, even if your part of southern California doesn't get much frost. I'd suggest you get yourself a copy of the Sunset Western Garden Book Encyclopaedia which is the "bible" for garden information in California. They will have plenty of information on planting seasons and species to plant when, and you can also determine exactly which Sunset zone you're in, as the USDA zone 9b is rather vague for people to really address your particular climate. (Or it would help to know what town you're in). For all those warm season plants, at least up north here in another USDA zone 9b/10a climate, none of those are really good planted much before mid March to mid April. The season down south is a bit earlier, but it depends on where you are.

There are plenty of winter vegetables and flowers you can still plant now for enjoyment, and root crops, lettuces, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, artichokes, strawberries, carrots, onions, chives, etc are all good now. Flowers this time of year are usually more along the lines of pansies, violas, primroses, cyclamen, Iceland poppies, Cerinthe major, etc. If you'd really like to see some more interesting choices, go to the web site and look at her suggestions for winter blooming plants. There are literally tons of things for southern California.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 4:49PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

Even without frost, there are seasonal limits to what can be produced in the food garden during that time of the year when photoperiod at one's latitude results in days with less than 11 hrs. of sunlight. This is particularly the case for long-day plants that were setting flowers or ripening fruit. In most cases, frost only causes sudden tissue death in plants that were already slowly dying due to insufficient light and heat. So not a big loss. This is the time of year to eat nutritious leaves, roots, stalks, tubers and buds.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2012 at 6:49PM
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Sometimes it pays to think outside the box a little and go with local knowledge over the SWG book. I've been growing tomato crops through winter for many years now. They grow much slower and are pretty rough looking come spring, but a homegrown tomato beats anything you can buy at the market. Beets, carrots, & kale can be grown year round here in the valley as well. Summer root crops are much less sweet, and not worth the effort IMO, but Red Russian Kale does great year round. The only way to know these things is to understand the micro-climates in your garden and through trial and error.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2012 at 2:36PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

A huge difference in being able to nurse a more mature tomato plant through a southern California winter, and trying to get a new young tomato plant to establish this late in the year. I've no doubts that it is possible to get some warm preference veggies such as tomatoes and some peppers to continue growing and bearing in some parts of southern California in winter, but it isn't ideal. In general you won't go wrong if you stick to the basics of the tried and true recommendations for seasonal plantings until you have a better feel for your local conditions. Observing what does well in your immediate neighborhood is often the best indicator. And just because you see veggie starts offered at places like Home Depot or Lowes early in the year, doesn't mean it is the best time to plant them. In general, you should go by the soil temperatures being consistently warm enough rather than by when you first see them at the nurseries. SWG book will explain all of that in more detail, and it really is quite useful for a beginning or even experienced gardener to have on hand.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2012 at 6:44PM
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My goal for a long time now has been to walk outside my door any day of the year and bring in fresh fruits and veggies. So I understand full well the concept of seasonal planting. I've also used the SWG book since the '70's. Rest assured, nothing is etched in stone.

In my locale and in my experience -- a second tomato crop planted in September has a very good chance of bearing fruit thru the winter. Less than optimal is any tomato sold at a market any time of year. If you keep an open mind you may have some fun and some unexpected success.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2012 at 12:50AM
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I wouldn't doubt tomato's are doable in winter in soucal..and we haven't even talked about any help with plastics. Dec- Jan in soucal averages what, 68f and more?..lows in the 40's at most in the coast?
Last year in the bay area my Tomatoes were pick-able and red until March. That was my longest growing season ever.

But,summer type seedlings sowed in mid pushing the reliable envelope hard-lol. With them, covering on a frosty might is a must.
Again,here in the bay area I knew somebody who had Cherry tomatoes reseed in her San Leandro back seemed to last all year. Just an amazing micro climate.
So, X-periment and see what you can my advice too.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2012 at 1:49PM
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Dick_Sonia(Sunset 17)

Mrclint raises a good point. With proper timing and careful cultivar selection, some climacteric fruits can be grown to a mature green stage at which point they can be "stored" on the vine in a growth-stalled state where they will ripen at an extremely slow rate during the dormant season. They can be picked when needed and will soft-ripen indoors. They won't have the sweetness of a summer tomato, but they won't be any worse than a hydroponic tomato from a greenhouse grower. I myself have had January tomatoes on the southern Oregon coast. These were Russian varieties like Sandul Moldovan and Giraffe. They stalled out near the end of October and the vines were dying by New Year's Day, but I was able to get usable fruit even off brown vines. Mainstream tomatos were dead by Halloween. The fruit of the hardy types are not that large -- golfball to raquetball size -- and they don't turn bright red when ripe, but they are better than nothing. I think perhaps it is the long-keeper tomatoes that are light green when ripe (like Giraffe) that are the best prospects. The difficult part is keeping the fruit from cracking during the rainy season.

This post was edited by dick_sonia on Mon, Dec 31, 12 at 14:39

    Bookmark   December 31, 2012 at 2:38PM
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I've found that any hardscaped areas in full sun such as patios and walkways will store and radiate heat. Likewise for south facing walls and fences. These areas can radiate enough heat to create warmer micro-climates. Conversely, low-lying open grass areas tend to collect the cold air and will get pretty frosty. Your mileage may vary.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2013 at 4:24PM
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I grow my winter tomatoes slightly differently than MrClint. Instead of extending summer/fall tomatoes, I'm germinating tomato starts in Nov heat in situ to grow through the winter for both the early fruit and the wonderful disease resistance.

I lost all my vines to powdery mildew in the heavy fogs of last summer, but these cold-chilled leaves seem to resist fungal pathogens better than summer leaves. My tomatoes look great right now, my yard got down to about 38 F recently. So I can't really agree with Bahia's take on it, just from recent experience. It's too cold right now, but SoCal winters have warm spells and I see no general reason not to grow young tomatoes in winter,

    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 9:29PM
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