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'freeze'

Dec 31

Winter Cold

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on December 31, 2015 at 10:05 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

The temperatures plummet as we sleep the night away. The slight breeze wafting in from the north creates an illusion of subfreezing air currents, despite the 38 degrees flashing on the digital signage at the local banks in town. As we hunker down under electric or down blankets, our plants must face the cold.

Some plants are unable to withstand cold weather. Tropicals, annuals, and some perennials do not have the ability to prevent ice crystals from forming inside their cell walls as temperatures drop. Other plants can ward off the ice crystals, but suffer from freezing in the intercellular spaces—this is what my daphne experienced the first year I moved to Lassen. The leaves appeared dried out or burned, but fortunately the plant survived and grew new leaves in the spring.

Cold tolerant plant - manzanita
 Cold-tolerant manzanita
Other plants have a built-in system that produces—in simple terms—an anti-freeze substance that protects the cells of the plant. This sucrose/protein substance is not something we can purchase at our local nursery. However, there is a product on the market called Cloud Cover that can help limit transpiration and protect plants in cold weather. Apply several hours before the temperatures drop to help prevent borderline varieties such as citrus from freezing.

When we know temperatures are going to drop, it is best to water container plants as the moist soil will retain some heat and protect the root system. Move them under an eave or covered porch.

Plants in the ground will require a different treatment. Create tents with burlap or sheets and place an oven or refrigerator light bulb under the sheet. If using an extension cord, be certain to wrap all connections well with electrical tape. Be careful to keep sheeting material away from the leaves.

There are some other decisions to consider before we get into the depths of winter-chill. First, mulch, mulch, mulch to protect the roots of plants. Do not prune back perennials such as lavender or sage. Their leaves act as a blanket and can be cut back after the last frost days in spring.

The aforementioned tropical plants provide such beauty that they are difficult to resist when we see them in bloom. Marin's planting zone puts these tropical plants on the fringe of growing here, so the temptation is great for bringing them home. If this is your story, give these plants a chance by installing them on the south side of the house where reflected heat will help sustain them during cold weather.

Frostbitten rose leaves
 Frostbitten rose leaves
Despite our efforts to protect our plants, frost damage may occur. If you see damaged leaves or dried stems, do not prune the damage until the danger of frost has passed. Then, with small pruning cuts, snip back the damaged plant until signs of green wood appear. I can always count on new growth from the roots of the bougainvillea growing at my home in Novato.

Bundle up and have a very happy new year.
Sep 11

Early Winter Warnings

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on September 11, 2015 at 9:12 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

in the garden
Then and now: Granddaughter Justine and daughter Lynette in the garden two weeks ago, and butternut squash with frostbitten leaves.
A few weeks ago I mentioned the vegetable garden never looked prettier. And then, Friday came the first frost advisory for us in Lassen and Modoc Counties. In fact, it wasn't even an "advisory"—it carried the label of "warning"!

Surely, those balmy 80-degree daytime temperatures wouldn't fall below 32 degrees at night? I was wrong. All the squash plants that covered the ground like a lush green carpet burned back, revealing more squash that grew undercover. The cukes didn't like the frost either, yet the tomatoes held their own and remained quite perky though laden with fruit.

The early frost warning indicated to me that we need to begin preparing for winter within the next few weeks. So soon you ask? A call from a dear friend in Novato reminded me it would be best to start "punching holes" in the canopy of our evergreen trees down there. This allows the gusts of wind to sail on through, instead of creating a sail of greenery that could knock the trees over. Don't put this project off to the last minute. Arborists' workloads will begin ramping up, and nothing can be worse than asking them to come do work in the middle of a storm—never a safe option!

Despite the heat wave in Marin this week, it's not too early to start thinking about other winterizing chores. If you have backflow devices on your irrigation system, are they covered with a locked thermal blanket? Are exposed pipes still insulated, or have years taken their toll and exposed the pipes to the elements?

I know. It's Marin, not Lassen. (I haven't forgotten the roots of my childhood and adult years.) But I still recall a week of freeze that caused my swimming pool in Novato to turn into an ice rink. I also recollect another winter when my horse stood for hours looking at the door leading into her stall before I finally went out to see what had captured her interest. Pipes in the barn leading to her water feeder had burst and entertained her with hours of a magnificent (yet costly) water show.

The weather charts and projections look ominous. Are you preparing to hunker down in the event that Marin has one of those rare freezes? Or rain for weeks on end? Is gutter cleaning on your to-do list after the leaves fall? Are drain lines cleared? Do your rain barrels have a safe exit for excessive water so the overflow doesn't end up under your house? Is there a fresh back-up battery in your controller? (Some controllers do not have back-up batteries.) And how about the depth of the mulch in your garden? Three inches should be the minimum amount of bark placed around the root zone of your plants. That blanket of mulch can potentially protect the roots from freezing in a cold snap. Do you have on hand Cloud Cover or Wilt Pruf, a polymer film spray, to help protect frost-tender plants exposed to the cold? The list goes on.

Begin your winterizing early. Before you know it, soup will be simmering on the back burner of the stove and you will be curled up with a favorite novel while the grasshopper is out shivering in the cold!
Dec 12

What Kind of Gardener Are You?

Posted to MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin on December 12, 2014 at 8:48 AM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

There seems to be a rash of surveys on Facebook these days. For example, based on your answers, various surveys will identify what jewel you are, which animal best describes you, and what job you would have had in the ‘50s.

The surveys made me wonder what type of gardeners are out there? Are you a patient gardener or a perfectionist? Is everything in your garden symmetrical, or is it planted free-style? Do you prefer things to be always green and beautiful, or are you the type of gardener willing to sacrifice looks for the final outcome in the garden? Do you pass over deciduous plants in the nursery in the winter? Or will you pick up a clearance plant that is past its blooming season to give it a good home?

It is said that one person’s junk is another person's treasure. That describes the gardener in me to a T. Recently, a friend decided she was tired of housing her citrus inside her new home and asked if I wanted another tree. Our greenhouse was quickly filling up with the onset of cold temperatures, but how could anyone turn down a citrus? I had seen the beautiful lemon tree in her home a few months before.

What I didn't expect is that in my friend’s haste to remove the plant from her coveted container, the tree came to me in a plastic bag—bare root. In other words, sans dirt around the roots. It seems the citrus also spent several nights outside in temperatures that dropped below freezing. My treasure was looking more like a rescued puppy that had been barely surviving under a bridge somewhere!

 Stressed and happy lemon cropped
Stressed lemon tree next to happy lemon tree
Upon my return home with the battered plant, I prepared a pail of water with some B1 added to try revitalizing the roots before I planted up the dislodged tree. A 30-minute soaking can help! I trimmed back the broken roots but left frozen, tattered leaves intact. From experience, I know this plant will defoliate, but hopefully it will be strong enough to resprout new leaves and flower and fruit once again. From past experience, I also know the process can be slow.

During the early ‘70s Marin County experienced a December snow. No, it wasn't a machine that prefabricated the white stuff; it actually fell from the sky and managed to stick to the ground for a short duration. Sunset Zone 15-17 plants were in trouble. The Robertson navel orange planted in our yard went into shock. When it defoliated, I was told to rip it out. I was told that it was dead. But the green of the cambium layer under the bark told a different story. For over a year, this sad, once-treasured plant stood leafless. And then buds began to form. Buds turned into leaves and stems formed. In the mid ‘80s we sold our home to another family. By that time the orange tree was beautiful and bearing delicious fruit once again.

I don't have survey questions to determine what category you might fall into as a gardener. You know that answer! For me, the reward of being a patient gardener is seeing plants recover from a stressful situation, or watching a plant take root for a year before blooming. But the type of gardener doesn't matter. The outcome of a beautiful garden is the real treasure for all of us.

To keep the garden looking beautiful, please protect your tender plants with a heavy layer of mulch. Spray them with Wilt-Pruf to prevent the cold air from dehydrating the exposed leaves, and place a tent-like structure over those plants susceptible to freezing when the temperature plummets.