Frost 101: What you need to know about frosty weather in Arizona
Is it really possible to end up with frost-damaged plants or frozen pipes in central and southern Arizona?
It’s been years since we’ve had a really big freeze, but once in a while it can happen – often in late December or early January. Just this week, we really felt temperatures dip big-time in the early morning!
And sometimes, a little snow dusts the higher elevations in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.
If you’re new to the state, you should always keep your eye on winter weather forecasts and be prepared to protect your plants and pipes in case of a bitterly cold night or two. Here are six important things you need to know:
1. Protect your water pipes from freezing or bursting
Spend about 20 minutes wrapping any water pipe that sticks out of the ground next to your home. Use old towels, rags and blankets and secure them with duct tape. You can open the valve box cover, too, and throw some loose towels over the irrigation and sprinkler valves.
Hardware stores also sell Styrofoam pipe sleeves you might buy. You may want to insulate pipes in your attic and seal air leaks that allow cold air to enter your garage and house in areas where pipes are located.
2. Shield fragile plants
Bougainvillea, orange and yellow bells, Natal plum, lantana, hibiscus, geraniums, lobelia, succulents and vegetable plants should all be covered on nights when the temperature is expected to drop. Ficus trees are particularly susceptible to cold.
You should also avoid pruning back all these plants extensively in the fall; those extra branches provide good protection for plants in winter. Pick off all your citrus if the temperature may drop into the 20s.
3. Cacti need protection, too
Our native saguaros and prickly pears may look tough and they can survive very cold temperatures, but more exotic cactus plants may need extra care.
Some homeowners cover them or use Styrofoam cups on the tips of branches. Some nurseries even sell green colored cups for this purpose.
4. Use the right coverings for your plants
The best protection is frost cloth bought from a nursery, but you can use sheets and other light fabrics.
Drape the material down to the soil and use gravel or stones to hold fabric down. Don’t use plastic or materials that can trap cold air around plants.
5. If the worst happens and pipes freeze
You’ll find out in the morning when you turn on a faucet and no water comes out.
If pipes burst, call a plumber. If pipes are intact, shut off water to the pipe, but open a couple of faucets so steam or water can escape while you thaw the pipe.
Heat the frozen pipe slowly using a hair dryer or wrap the frozen area with pipe heating tape and plug it in for a while.
6. If plants are damaged
Don’t cut off the frozen branches until all danger of frost is past. Those shriveled limbs and leaves can protect the plant from future frost. Wait until danger of frost has passed in March.
Even if a plant seems dead, don’t chop it down and remove it immediately. Many a dead-looking tree or bush will revive and thrive once spring arrives.
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