Sooner or later it happens every fall – the weatherman predicts an overnight drop in temperature below freezing. For most people this just signals the need for warmer clothes. For gardeners however, it can be a time of anxiety. We tend to push the envelope in growing warm climate plants that can’t handle prolonged freezes. But there is one simple thing you can do to fortify your plants against a freeze.
When a freeze is in the forecast get out there and water all your plants, those in soil and those in pots. Damp soil and well-hydrated plants will help to reduce the effects of the cold air in two ways.
Watering your garden and pots provides a reservoir of heat that will reduce the effects of freezing air. This is a trick I learned many years ago from citrus growers in my California home town. Whenever a hard freeze was predicted, the growers would flood the orchard irrigation ditches. This may seem a bit crazy – doesn’t water turn to ice and isn’t that bad? But as the air temperature dropped in the orchards, it cooled the water. When water cools, it releases energy back into the air and slows the overall temperature drop. Thus flooding the orchard would save the crop.
Watering before a freeze is also good for the plants. When they are well-hydrated, the leaves (which are most sensitive to freezes) will be plump and in good condition. A healthy plant is more likely to withstand stress than a starved or dehydrated plant. It’s that simple.
So next time the weatherman starts talking about a freeze you’ll know what to do. Grab the garden hose and water your plants.