Succulents at greatest risk to cold (and wet) damage
Hen and chicks survived the hail and frost, but
the plant shows some brown scars. (Photo: Debbie Arrington)
California’s big chill continues. Frost, hail and snow gave our state an extra dose of winter, just when we thought we were headed for an early spring.
Not-in-recent memory episodes popped up from Carmichael to San Diego. Thursday, it snowed on the beach at Malibu (only briefly, but it counts) as well as in the desert past Baker.
What did these freezing conditions do to our gardens?
Hail punches holes in leaves, especially big tender foliage. Because most of this winter has been mild, semi-tropical plants such as canna and ginger already had started to grow back. In our Sacramento yard, they got thrashed.
That damage is mostly cosmetic, but wait until late March or April to trim it off. Frayed or frost-burned foliage is helping to protect the plant from more potential damage. Sacramento’s traditional last-frost date is March 23.
Come spring, those plants will grow fresh foliage and look just fine.
Succulents may not be so lucky. Fleshy leafed plants can bruise and show lasting scars of hail impacts.
Worse, succulents are filled with water. Their cells can freeze, then burst, turning the foliage to mush.
Hail usually melts before it can cause any frostlike damage, but exposure to temperatures below 32 degrees for 30 minutes or more can cause significant damage to fleshier succulents.
According to succulent experts, it’s not just the cold that causes damage, but the exposure to bright sunlight when frozen. The plants need to thaw gradually to avoid bursting their cells. Shade them with a sheet or cardboard to protect them while they thaw.
Due to an abundance of rain this winter, succulents already are at risk of rot. They can survive frosty conditions much better with dry soil than wet. If planted in containers, make sure to tip out excess water.
Because of this rot risk, prune off mushy foliage and stems from damaged succulents immediately to encourage new healthy growth.
According to succulent expert and best-selling author Debra Lee Baldwin, succulents exposed to light frost may only show damage at the tips. Exposure to freezing temperatures for several hours can collapse a whole plant. Succulents generally don’t regenerate from the roots, she added. Crassulas, aeoniums, euphorbias and kalanchoes are at greatest risk.
Living in northern San Diego County (which also saw a dusting of snow this week), Baldwin has a lot of experience, helping her succulent collection cope with near-death experiences. Find it here along with lots of photos:
For more on succulents: