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Are you ready for a big chill? How about your plants?

Prepare for frost with these handy tips

Harvest ripe fall fruit, such as persimmons, that may be damaged by frost.

Harvest ripe fall fruit, such as persimmons, that may be damaged by frost.

Kathy Morrison

After a very warm October, we’re now shivering at night.

It may seem extra early, but frost is in the forecast for the next several nights – especially in the foothills. Downtown Sacramento is expected to see overnight lows dipping into the low 30s.

It’s a shock to our systems – and our plants, too. October averaged afternoon highs of almost 83 degrees – four degrees above normal. Three weeks ago, we were still seeing days in the high 80s.

Storms earlier this week dropped 0.97 inches on Sacramento – and kept overnight temperatures in the upper 40s. But with clear skies come cold nights. According to the National Weather Service, Sacramento can expect lows in the 30s all next week with frost warnings early Monday and Tuesday.

In several 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. In 2020, we had our first frost warning Nov. 10, although actual freezing temperatures didn’t hit until two weeks later.

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. Especially at risk are new transplants.

Keep these frost tips handy, too:

* 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.

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

* Harvest ripe fruit that may be harmed by frost. Don't let pomegranates and persimmons freeze on the tree. The same goes for early citrus such as lemons, limes or mandarins.

* 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 lightsthe 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 on 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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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