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Friday, October 9, 2015

When to Cover Winter Tender Plants in the Mojave Desert

Q. When should we cover Pygmy Palm, Bougainvillea and other plants that will freeze here in Henderson?  I have burlap to cover them.

Bougainvillea freeze damage
A. Both of these plants can tolerate temperatures to near freezing and they don't seem to have problems at temperatures below 45° F that causes chilling damage to some plants. Some tropical plants such as tomatoes may show chilling damage to fruit at temperatures below 45° F. This is why it is best to not refrigerate tomato fruits.
            It seldom freezes in the Las Vegas Valley before Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving you might expect freezing temperatures at the higher elevations such as in Summerlin or in very low spots in the Valley where cold air collects. In Henderson, this might be in the old Pittman area or along the wash.
            Cold air, being heavier than warm air, settles into low geographic areas. Cold air tends not to settle on gently sloping land or hills.
            Freezing temperatures are more frequent where plants are exposed to wind. Plants growing along major streets tend to freeze more often than those in protected backyards. Major streets are urban canyons that channel cold wind in the winter. Backyards are more nestled away from these exposed urban canyons.
Sehgal palm cold damage
            Plants growing close to brick or cement walls that face West or South are less likely to freeze than plants growing further away unless wind is involved. Brick and cement walls exposed to the sun store heat during the day and radiate this heat at night keeping the plants a few degrees warmer. If wind is involved, it removes this radiant warmth making these plants more susceptible to freezing temperatures.
            Bottom line, when the weather forecast is for freezing temperatures, cover the plants with an old sheet, blanket, or in your case burlap, before nightfall. Drape this covering over the soil or any surface that can radiate heat at night. Remove this covering the next morning after temperatures are above freezing.
            In open areas, expect freezing temperatures after Thanksgiving and up to March 1. In protected areas, expect these temperatures anytime between mid-December and mid-February but watch your local weather forecast closely and adapt this recommendation accordingly.

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