Harmony in the Garden Blog

Help your garden survive an unexpected freeze

I woke up this morning to a whopping 26 degrees.  Yes, I know – I can already hear those of you in other parts of the country laughing at my wimpyness.  But don’t forget, I live in mild-climate California!  My poor little plants aren’t accustomed to this weather and are fairly miserable right now.

If your garden is also suffering as a result of these unusually low temperatures, there’s still hope.  First and foremost, though,is to make sure your plants have been thoroughly watered beforehand!  Nothing will save them if they’re bone dry AND they get hit with a frost – it’s a double whammy that spells out certain death.

Here are a few ways I protect some of my more tender plants (succulents, citrus, and lavenders to name a few).

TeePee beforeTeePee After
The Tee-Pee.  I made this from 3 bamboo stakes tied together at the top.  Place it over the plant, and cover with a piece of burlap (you can buy the burlap in sheets or rolls at most garden centers or hardware stores).  DON’T USE PLASTIC!  It freezes also and wherever it touches the plant it’ll freeze directly onto the leaves, making a bad situation worse.




No tee-pee?  No problem – you can just lightly drape the burlap over your plants.




No burlap?  No problem, you can use an old sheet or light towel.

Under Eaves



Another way to protect your containers is to move them under the eaves of your home or other building, offering them a bit of shelter from the frost.

Christmas Lights



Christmas Lights.  The small lights emit a small bit of heat, and when wound throughout your plant or tree  it can be just the ticket to raising the temperature those precious few degrees. I’ve done this for years with my huge orange tree with great success.  Plus, it looks really pretty at night – an added bonus!

Seed Catalogues

And when all else fails, make yourself a cup of tea and take the time to settle down and read a good gardening book or seed catalogue.

While this won’t offer your tender plants protection from death’s frozen grip, it’ll at least give you some ideas of what cold hardy plants you can replace them with in the spring!

Do you have any tips that help when a temporary freeze hits? I’d love to hear them!!


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    I can’t STAND it!
    I had a terrible freeze about 3 years ago and lost ALL of my darkest Aeonium Zwartkopfs. They have been recovering – but it was hard on me! Just looking at your frozen plants made my heart sink.
    I know that gardening is supposed to teach us to be patient and circumspect, and to accept the vagaries of nature – but I’m a big baby and will totally throw a fit, even if it does no good.
    I admire your fortitude. You are a gardener with panache!
    Happy New Year, Sweet!

  • Town Mouse – you’re right about the new LED lights…I like to use the big old fashioned ones…as you say the ‘energy hogs’…

    And yes, Susan, you’re in luck – those hens & chicks are pretty tough…though mine have been damaged before. Just leave them if they get all ‘wilty’ and they’ll put out new little ‘chicks’ in the Spring. Sometimes they turn to mush (like lettuce in the freezer!)…just chuck ’em at that point. Heck, I have so many I’ll just give you more….

    Carrie – keep your Aeonium stems – they’ll probably resprout little babies in the Spring!

  • I wasn’t going to cover anything, but then I wimped out and put a sheet over the lemon, the Galvecia speciosa, and the Jade plant, and some cardboard over the pots with seedlings. Everything survived, even the Salvia cacaliifolia, which I kind of hoped would freeze a bit to save me work when pruning.
    BTW, the new LED Xmas lights won’t work for protection, so use some old energy hogs for this purpose.

  • My garden’s hanging in – didn’t bother protecting the lemon as it’s about 10 years old and has a southern exposure (plus, it’s only given me ONE measly lemon this year – maybe this’ll scare it into producing).

    I have Hens and Chicks that were a gift from Laura S. -are they one of the tough succulents or do I need to build them a burlap palace?

  • Sadly I lost some of my aeoniums 🙁 My citrus are still okay though. I use the larger Christmas lights as they put off the most heat- the smaller lights don’t really seem to provide much protection. We also covered our citrus and avocado trees with sheets in addition to the christmas lights. I’m pretty picky with the fruit tree’s- they take SO long to start producing, I’d hate to lose an avocado tree after waiting five years to produce!


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