Sooner or later it happens every fall – the weatherman predicts the first overnight drop in temperature to below freezing. For most of us this just signals the need for warmer clothes. But for gardeners it can be a time of anxiety. We sons of the soil tend to push the envelope by growing warm climate plants that can’t handle prolonged freezes. Admit it – you live in Zone 8 but just couldn’t resist growing that cute herb that will only survive in Zones 9-11. Now winter is coming and you’re between a rock and a hard place.
There is one simple thing you can do to fortify all 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 freezing air. How is this possible? Horticultural science, my friend.
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’s 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 minimize the temperature drop inside the orchard and possibly 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.