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Protect plants from cold weather

A plant’s ability to withstand the cold depends upon many factors including the species of plant, plant condition, the time of year along with how low and how fast temperatures drop as well as the duration of the freeze.

The California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) offers some recommendations to help protect your plants during the winter cold and sudden temperature drops.

Preparing for a freeze

Healthy, hydrated plants are more resistant to injury from cold than newly planted ones or plants weakened by disease, drought, insects or improper care.

Mulching with a partially composted material is one the best ways to protect plant roots because it helps insulate the soil, reducing heat loss and minimizing temperature fluctuations.

Protecting the roots is necessary in order for them to survive the cold. However make sure the mulch is pulled away from the area where the plant stem meets the soil so the stem will not rot.

Be sure to check the mulching material about once a month to make sure that moisture is getting to the soil below.

Avoid using weed block materials, plastic or other barriers to moisture beneath the mulch so that water can get to the roots.

When a freeze is forecast, give your plants a good watering a couple days in advance.

Moist soil absorbs heat during the day and radiates it out on a cold night.

Active plants with adequate moisture content can better resist freeze damage. Plants can also be gently sprayed with mists of water to create an ice blanket, which helps insulate and protect the plant.

Applying water just prior to freezing temperatures combined with a protective cover can be extremely helpful in reducing freeze damage and can also be a life-saver.

Container plants are especially susceptible to cold damage because their roots have little ability to acclimate or develop tolerance to the cold. Their soil occupies a limited space and is exposed to cold on all sides.

The ground can stay well above freezing on a very cold night, but the soil in a container will get almost as cold as the air.

The best way to protect container plants is to bring them indoors into a garage.

Also, avoid temperature shock by not putting them in a heated area. As soon as the weather improves put them back outside immediately.

If you are unable to bring the plants indoors, try to group them together in a protected location up against the home or even under the eaves or a carport and cover them with a light blanket, sheets, tablecloth, polypropylene material or custom plant blankets or other cloth for the night.

If the container is too big to move, you can mulch around the container or wrap the base with a blanket or other cloth. Covering a plant with cloth is one of the most effective ways of protecting a plant during extremely cold weather.

Make sure the cover extends all the way to the ground so that it can trap in the heat. Plants do not produce heat but the soil does.

Be sure to remove the covers daily when the temperature is above freezing. The additional weight of a wet cloth can break delicate branches.

Do not use plastic materials to cover your plants.

What do I do during a freeze?

During a freeze if the ground is frozen, water may be unavailable to the plants. Plants continue to transpire and dry out during the day.

Watering the soil to thaw the ground can make the water available to the roots.

Check the soil for moisture and do not water too much or too often. If the soil becomes too saturated, it may cause damage to the root systems or cause damage from ice build up.

Continue to check the water needs of the plants for several days after a freeze.

What do I do after a freeze?

In general, many plants and trees are exposed to freezing or cold temperatures in their native environment and most will recover and should be left alone. Unless necessary to prevent additional damage or damage to property, any pruning or cutting back of damaged plants should not be done until spring.

Removing bark, leaves or limbs can expose the plants to additional damage, especially if another cold snap or frost occurs. It is best to leave them alone.

For helpful information about how you can start planning now for next year’s drought please go to

Barbara Landrith is the California Landscape Contractors Association outreach specialist working out of Sacramento. She can be reached at [email protected] or by calling (916) 830-2780. The CLCA Web site is


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