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Feel the chill? So do your plants

Get ready for frost with these handy tips

Lights on citrus tree
The heat from old-fashioned holiday lights can help protect citrus trees during a frost warning. (Photos:
Kathy Morrison)





Are you ready for a big chill?

It may seem extra early, but frost is in the forecast for several nights this week – especially in the foothills.

In recent years, Sacramento’s first frost hasn’t hit until mid- to late December. But historically, frost can bite us any time between early November and the first day of spring.

Clear, dry and cool conditions – like what we’re experiencing right now – are more likely to plunge overnight temperatures into the low 30s or 20s than wet weather (which is coming soon). But for the next few nights, we should be on frost alert.

Like any challenge, it’s best to be prepared. Have your frost cloths handy and be ready to bundle up your garden when the forecast predicts 32 degrees or colder.

Keep these frost tips handy, too:

Citrus tree with frost blanket
Frost blankets, such as Agribon, also can help protect tender plants.
This display by the Sacramento County master gardeners at the
Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in 2018 has the blanket pulled up
so visitors can see the lights on the tree, but in use the covering
would be pulled over the tree to the ground.



* If there is a frost warning, cover your sensitive plants with frost cloth, blankets or cloth sheets (not plastic) before sunset so radiant heat will help keep them cozy. Make sure the cloths go down to the ground to hold in that heat.

* Remember to uncover plants during the day (especially if it’s sunny) or they can be smothered by their frost protection.

* Harvest ripe citrus that may be harmed by frost. Don't let oranges, lemons and other fruit freeze on the tree. (But don't pick them if they're not ripe -- citrus doesn't ripen off the tree.)

* Citrus trees (particularly young trees) tend to be susceptible to frost damage. Limes are the most frost-tender. Make sure they get some protection before frost hits.

* Wrap trunks of young citrus trees to insulate them from frost.

* Holiday lights – the old-fashioned kind that get hot, not LEDs – can help keep plants warm, too. Wrap a string of lights around the trunk and branches. Keep the lights on all night.

* With some exceptions, keep plants watered. Frost injury occurs when ice crystals form on leaf surfaces and draw moisture out of the leaf. The damage from dehydration is what causes frost burn.

* The exemption to this rule are cacti and succulents, where saturation can cause more damage. Also, such tropical plants as bananas and hibiscus may rot if over-saturated before frost, so they prefer to be kept of the dry side.

* Don’t overprotect. Plants are more frost-resistant if they’ve experienced some cold weather and winter hardening.

* If frost damage occurs, wait until March or April to prune off browned branches. That injured area will help protect the rest of the plant from further frost burn.

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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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