Sow There! Tried and true tips for frost in Zone 9, 12-22-16

Icicles hang from a lemon tree.
Icicles hang from a lemon tree. Enterprise-Record file photo

My coworker Laura is the weather queen in the newsroom. She starts work very early, checks with the National Weather Service and Western Weather Group, then posts the weather info online. Once I’ve read the results of her hard work, I’m giddy with knowledge and share the synopsis via social media. More importantly, I know when to rescue my plants.

During this recent downward turn in temperature I moved the most important plants to the center of the living room. My house is small and my main room now looks like the Rainforest Cafe. If I’m carrying too much junk through the front door, I turn to the side and shuffle across the room sideways like an economy airline flight attendant.

We tend to think of “freezing” as 32 degrees, which is correct for water. However, many plants will withstand temperatures below this icy threshold.

I don’t like to take chances. If Laura says it’s going to be cold, I react as if Ice Man from Marvel Comics has a cough and is walking through my neighborhood.

The first defense in battling cold is to make sure your plants are in good shape and that you are not allowing them to dry out. Healthier plants do better under stress. Moist soil also retains heat better than dry dirt.

For plants too big to haul inside, my best strategy is to cover the entire plant before darkness falls. In this area, the soil will warm during the day and release stored heat at night.

The problem is that I rarely get home before it’s dark. By nightfall, a lot of that stored heat has escaped.

When the cold settled in this week, I covered everything and left the yard looking like I was in the middle of doing laundry.

The Handsome Woodsman’s stained work shirts do wonders. He was an extra large and it makes me smile to think he’s still helping with the gardening.


Mother Earth News — “The Original Guide to Living Wisely” — asked readers in 2013 to share their tried-and-true winter gardening tips. Here’s some frost protection tips from readers in Zone 9:

• Cut up milk jugs for mini-greenhouses.

• Use leftover wire fencing to make tunnels (mini hoop houses) then cover with 6 mil plastic. This reader successfully grew lettuce and other cool-weather edibles.

• Quilted cloth coverings.

• Old sheets draped over bamboo stakes

• One gardener uses a four-man camping tent, pops it up, and zips the plants inside.

• Place five-gallon buckets over small potted plants.


Just for fun, I checked with the UC Davis seasonal vegetable planting guide for the Sacramento Valley (which makes no claim about being an “original” guide):

For early January, the guide states we can still plant seeds for cauliflower, broccoli, onions and cabbage. However, I’d want to hear from the “original guide for living wisely” to know if winter seed planting was successful in Zone 9. Maybe they mean we can plant seeds indoors on a heating mat.

The UC guide also says tomatoes and carrots can be planted now. I’ve had success planting tomato seeds in January in the windowsill, after covering the container with plastic wrap. Maybe that’s what they meant to say.


Sunday is the big holiday for most Americans — a day for storing calories for the winter and loving on your people.

My wacky family is great, and I know I’m among the fortunate. Also, many people have kept in close contact this year after the death of the Handsome Woodsman.

People who I hardly know will stop me for a bear hug, and to tell me to keep writing about this grieving thing.

I don’t feel particularly “brave,” as many have said. I feel raw and often numb. Sometimes I’ll sit and think for long periods of time and not know what I was thinking about.

Lately I’ve been mourning the final drops of dish soap or shaving cream that Dave and I shared. Other times I’ll wish I could use those products more quickly so I can switch brands and have one less sad reminder.

And then I hear from kind folks who tell me they also have lost someone close to them. They reassure me that this stiff piece of wood that feels like it is lodged in my body will ease over time.

Those moments of sadness will be equally matched by warm, sepia-toned memories.

I believe them. I do. I can read it in their faces.

Those truths are probably closer to the “original guide to living wisely.”

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