Baby it’s kale outside

COOL COVER Garden fabric can help protect plants when night temperatures take a dip. 

A number of years ago I was on a tour of Highgrove Royal Gardens in England. At this, the private residence of Their Royal Highness, we marveled at the beautiful hostas and ooohed and aaahed over the meadows of wildflowers. It was all quite stunning, my dears. And at the end of the tour guide slowed her pace. She lowered her voice nearly to a whisper as she announced “And here … we have … the California Wild Lilac!” Sounds of delight and awe rippled through our tour group. My colleague and I exchanged quick glances—so much build up for a native California plant that we routinely fly by on the highway without a second thought (no booing here, I truly love our hardworking ceanothus). And I couldn’t help but think about how much coddling and care must go into keeping that Mediterranean climate-loving shrub happy so far from its native soil.

In the Bay Area we are also fond of some non-native but wonderful plants. Some are particularly susceptible to frost injuries. So this winter, as you reach for that big soft blanket folded up at the end of our couch, don’t forget those beauties in your garden that need a little warming up as well. If you have citrus, bougainvillea, succulents, avocados, or fuchsias in your garden then I’m talking to you. And, unless you’re willing to share your blanket (answer: no) then you should have a frost plan. An ounce of prevention for your plants will keep you warm and cozy on the couch. So, take a few minutes to prepare for the next time you find Jack Frost nipping at your rose (couldn’t help it…and, side note, roses are very hardy and do not need protection):

Water the ground around your plants thoroughly to moderate the soil temperature and protect the root zone.

Wrap (non-LED) holiday lights around the branches of your shrubs and small trees. The small amount of heat they give off is often just enough to ward off the cold. And they’re just so darn festive!

If you haven’t yet thrown out your Christmas tree, cut off the branches and pile them up at the base of your plants to keep them cozy. Any other spruce/pine boughs will do.

Purchase floating row cover from a garden supply store or forage burlap sacks from your local coffee roaster. Wrap and/or drape either of them lightly over your plants. Then enjoy a cup of coffee.

Bring potted succulents or other tender plants up on the porch where they can bask in the radiant heat of your house.

Build an elaborate PVC or wood frame around your plants and drape plastic over them. No, on second thought, don’t do this. Choose plants that are more suited for your area and you can avoid this all together!

And now, grab that blanket on the couch and sing with me…baby (kale) it’s cold outside…

Cayce Hill is a Santa Clara County Master Gardener. Call the group’s hotline at (408) 282-3105, Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., or visit for help with your garden problems.

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