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Climate and Environment

This Winter Storm Will Take My Plants Over My Cold Dead Body

Rows of potted cactuses in the sun.
Moon Valley Nurseries in North Hollywood
(Jackie Orchard
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A cold front is moving in and temperatures in Southern California could dip into the 30s this week. That’s cold for us, but how cold is it for your outdoor plants and trees?

It’s not just California’s little resilient succulents people have hanging out on their patios or perched in their yards; L.A. residents enjoy a wide range of gardening options — everything from orange trees to the common snake plant.

Here’s our guide to protecting your little green pals.

Tuck in small plants and herbs

Ella Christian owns Tansy, a vibrant plant store in Burbank, and she says your plants will need a little extra comfort — not just from you, but from each other. When plants huddle together, they can form a microclimate.

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“We recommend that if you have smaller potted plants, you think about bringing them inside or at least into a covered patio area where the heat won't just kind of disappear,” Christian said. “So if you put a bunch of them together, they will stay warm.”

For plants in the ground, Christian says you can place cardboard boxes with ventilation holes over them or use tarps or plastic garbage bags to protect them from frost.

A bright, colorful shop filled with plants.
The inside of Tansy, in Burbank
(Jackie Orchard

Common watering myth

Christian said to keep an eye on how much you're watering your plants during bouts of colder weather.

“Plants over-water very easily when it's cold out,” she said. “They don't have a chance to really dry out because there's no heat, so you can water way less than what you're used to.”

Christian said it’s a myth that you should water thoroughly before a cold front comes in.

“Take your watering down,” she said. “For succulents and cactuses you want to be really careful with how much water they're getting.”

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A grapefruit tree outside in the sun.
Moon Valley Nurseries in North Hollywood is home to countless citrus trees, like this grapefruit tree bearing fruit.
(Jackie Orchard

Hearty citrus

For those who have larger concerns — literally, like the ever-present citrus trees adorning California’s front lawns or terraces, Melody Dowlat of Moon Valley Nurseries in North Hollywood said there isn’t too much cause for concern. She said Moon Valley is the No. 1 supplier of these trees in the country, and they specifically breed them to be hearty against sudden bouts of cold.

Moon Valley Nurseries

“Everything that we have here is basically grafted onto really good rootstock, the citrus included, so it is more cold hardy,” she said. “Our avocado on the other hand, that's something that tonight we will want to cover to mitigate any type of burnout.”

Burnout = when a plant runs out of moisture due to drought or frozen soil.

Dowlat said if your outdoor temperatures are not dropping below 30 degrees, you should be fine.

Even though citrus is tougher than we think, though, “in areas like Palmdale, Lancaster, certain parts of Santa Clarita where you're going to get that frost — I would definitely recommend covering up your citrus so that you can protect it from the cold spell,” she said.

Dowlat said good fertilizer in this cold season helps to give your plants the nutrients they need to fight off lower temperatures, but agrees with Christian that, if possible, bring your plants inside on a cold night.

“I have a ton of pothos and some other indoor plants,” Dowlat said. “I'll bring them in and I have a humidifier. I'm in Woodland Hills and it gets really cold in the middle of the night.”

She said it’s important to keep in mind that many houseplants come from humid climates, so a humidifier can help them thrive in the home.

A Persian woman breaks open a grapefruit in the sun.
Melody Dowlat, general manager of Moon Valley Nurseries in North Hollywood, plucks off a grapefruit and shares it with reporter Jackie Orchard.
(Jackie Orchard

Be chill when it’s chilly

Overall, Ella Christian said not to fret too much about the cold stretch, and not to get discouraged on your plant journey.

“It's really important to remember that plants are built for this,” she said. “They are incredibly hearty, they will get cold damage, but also as temperatures warm up, they will start to look better, they will rebound, all your stuff will come back eventually from this crazy weather.”

And — if the worst should happen, you can visit Tansy’s plant hospital for a little greenhouse 911.

“Whether they bought it here or didn't buy it here — we will fix it up for them, whether it's a pest treatment, or a re-pot or over-watering," Christian said. "We just want to help people learn and we want to help people enjoy plants and find the joy that we find in them.”

What questions do you have about Southern California?

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