Dec 07 2020Share

Protect your Plants from the Cool Desert Nights

By AMWUA Staff

As we officially begin meteorological winter with December's arrival, temperatures, especially at night, begin to fall. After spending much time and money in our yards over the year, it's essential to make sure we adequately protect our hard work and investment from the chilly winter desert nights.

If your landscape is desert-adapted and features many native plants, you can rest more easily about frost damage. However, if you have some sensitive plants, it is best to know how to adequately protect them when nighttime temperatures hit 32 degrees or below. If the temperature falls below 20 degrees, some plants can still sustain some damage.

To adequately protect your plants, especially the more vulnerable ones, we wanted to provide some helpful tips as the evening temperatures begin to dip.

Cover them properly:

• If you don't have frost cloth, cover plants with lightweight cotton sheets or painter's cloth that allow for light and airflow. Burlap and blankets, even paper and cardboard will also work, but make sure you do not weigh down any branches. It's best if the cover reaches the ground and can trap the warm air rising from the soil.

• It is not recommended to use plastic items such as an old shower curtain or tablecloth. Plastic will freeze and transfer the cold, which can burn or kill the plant.

• Small old-fashioned electric Christmas lights hung or placed near the plant's base will add warmth to a plant. Please note that LED lights do not create the same heat.

Some plants are more sensitive than others:

• Popular tropical plants are the most sensitive to cold weather, such as Ficus trees, bougainvillea, yellow bells, lantana, fairy dusters, and some succulents. Lemon and lime trees are more sensitive than other citrus trees.

• Shrubs sheared into more defined shapes are more likely to suffer from cold weather than those allowed to grow with their natural shapes.

• If you plant annuals, snapdragons, pansies, and flowering kale will tolerate the cold better than others.

• Potted plants are more susceptible to cold weather damage. Place these plants under large evergreen trees, on your porch, or in your garage or shed. Even moving them closer to the wall of your home will help.

• Wrap trunks of young or frost-sensitive trees to provide them another layer of protection.

If your plants and trees suffer damage due to the cold, do not fret, they will grow back. They may look unsightly for a bit, but those damaged parts will also help to insulate the rest of the plant from further damage. Just remember to wait to trim them in the spring when the nights once again begin to warm up.

When it comes to watering, as the weather cools and when a cold night is forecasted, make sure you water tropical plants and trees at their base a day or two before the freeze. Do not water cactus or succulents. Cactus and succulents withstand the cold far better if their soil is dry. And if we get some long-awaited rain, make sure you give your irrigation system a break for a cycle or two. It will protect your plants and save water.

For more info, check out our valuable plant and landscape tips and resources.

For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has helped protect our member cities' ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more information, visit

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