Frost makes tender foliage ugly fast.

Is it too late to warn about frost? After all the rain, the recent and sudden cold weather was quite a surprise. Fortunately, these recent frosts were relatively mild. This sort of weather is probably just enough to start to satisfy plants that require chilling through winter without causing too much damage to too many sensitive plants. So far, only the most sensitive plants, like angels’ trumpet, canna and left-out houseplants show symptoms of frost damage. (Cannas should get cut to the ground at the end of winter anyway.)

Doing without all frost sensitive plants would be too limiting. Lemon, avocado, bougainvillea, fuchsia and Australian tree fern would be off limits. Such plants are worth growing, as long as we understand the potential for occasional frost damage. Those that are too big to protect may sometimes need to get pruned for removal of stems that get killed by frost. In milder climates, such damage will be very rare. In cooler spots, damage is more common, and may involve a few tougher plants, like jacaranda.

Smaller plants that are sensitive to frost, such as jade plant, angel wing begonia and the various pelargoniums, can be grown in containers so that they can be moved to sheltered spots before the weather gets too cold for them. The most sensitive sorts need to be moved under a porch roof or eave, or maybe into a garage. More resilient plants may be safe under overhanging trees or against a wall. South or west facing stucco walls radiate a slight bit of warmth at night.

Frost sensitive plants that get too big for containers should be planted in sheltered spots, like below eaves or larger trees. If a severe frost is predicted, young plants can be protected by burlap, paper, trash bags or any convenient sheeting suspended above by stakes. Foliage that touches the sheeting may get frozen, but foliage within should be fine.

Foliage and stems that get damaged by frost should not necessarily get pruned away immediately. Although unsightly, the dead foliage insulates damaged stems below from subsequent frost. Besides, premature pruning can stimulate new growth, which is more sensitive to subsequent frost.

8 thoughts on “Frost Is Just Too Cool

    1. It got worse when it thawed.
      Really though, frost is a part of nature that those of us who enjoy horticulture must contend with. When I remove unsightly frost damage from my garden, it is more because I do not want neighbors to be bothered by it than because I find it to be unsightly. It can be frustrating or saddening at times, but is really just a part of gardening. I expect my geraniums (pelargoniums) to get frosted every few years or so. It is no big deal. I know that other plants appreciate the chill.

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      1. I can understand what you say in relation to neighbours and what they might think and also how that would make you sad. We are lucky to be in a rural area where no such consideration needs to be taken. Personally I think that each state of a plants life can be considered beautiful and I also think it is time to move away from the very tidy gardens of the past and allow for more of a mess and more wildlife. But in highly developed areas that can be a slow process.

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      2. Where I am at now, there are no neighbors to mind frost damaged perennials. However, we must still thin the forest somewhat so that it is less combustible. Much of the underbrush gets cut down, and much of the tree canopy gets pruned upward. I get the distinct impression that the quail do not like it. The ceanothus, coffeeberry and lower toyon is too scrubby for predatory birds to pursue them through. They run around in there and eat the berries and seeds without anyone bothering them. When such vegetation gets cleared, the quail lose some of their territory. I don’t hunt quail, but I do like them in the yard. When they come out to the edges of the thickets, they eat weed seeds.

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