Protecting plants from the hard freeze

December 16, 2008 7:21:23 PM PST
The next wave of bone-chilling weather will hit especially hard in the North and East Bay. The cold will be good for grapes; it will send the vines into dormancy, but it will not be as good for nurseries or plants in many people's backyards.

Romolo Iavarone has been tending his Mill Valley garden for nearly 60 years, but this winter, he is going to be trying something different.

Friends from Italy have taught Iavarone how to make limoncello, an Italian liqueur, by growing the needed lemons inside a bottle.

Iavrone is not worried about this most recent cold snap, because a nearby pine tree provides protection for the more fragile lemon tree, but his Meyer lemon tree is a different story. Those branches become brittle in the cold, he is trying to protect them by covering the tree with a plastic umbrella.

That is the right idea, according to Lee Eckles of the Mill Valley Sloat Garden Center. Citrus, fleshy plants, succulents and any new growth should be covered in cold weather, Eckles said.

"A jade plant, (even) if it's been on Grandma's front porch for 10 years, it can be three feet tall, in the morning, if it's a hard freeze, it will just be deflated like a balloon," Eckles said.

Eckles suggests using a protective spray or covering plants with a light-weight cloth propped up on stakes so it does not directly touch the plant.

It is also important to water the plants then insulate the soil with mulch.

Even an unheated greenhouse will protect Iavarone's arugula and Swiss chard; if there is no greenhouse or no room to bring plants inside, even a garage or a covered porch should provide enough protection.


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