Cold temperatures in many parts of California can pose a threat to the foliage and fruit of citrus and other subtropical trees including Avocado, Loquat, Guava, and Macadamia. Frost injures plants because of ice crystals, which form in the plant cells, making water unavailable to the plant tissues and disrupting the movement of fluids. Leaves or twigs, which have been damaged by frost, appear as though they are soaked with water. The leaves or twigs can wither and turn a dark brown or black color. Sensitive younger trees or trees which have been re-grated may die from frost damage but frost rarely kills mature trees.
How To Protect Your Trees
Trees that are planted in open areas and trees exposed to cold winds are the most likely to suffer frost damage. It is beneficial to avoid planting trees sensitive to frost in low-lying areas of your property as cold air travels downward and accumulates in depressions. When trees are planted near structures or walls they absorb and retain reflected heat during the daytime making them less susceptible to frost damage.
The regular watering of trees not only helps keep them healthy but also helps them stand up to frost better. And, because a full canopy helps protect a tree during cold weather, applying fertilizer to stimulate new growth along with regular pruning can provide protection against frost.
Frost Protection Measures To Take
You can wrap the trunks and branches of young frost-sensitive trees with an insulating material like fiberglass, palm fronds, newspapers or cardboard to provide them with protection against frost. During rainy weather, covering the insulation material with a plastic film helps keep it dry. When insulating a young tree, take care to cover the trunk from the ground level up to the main branches. Take the time to clear the ground around the tree so it’s free of weeds, mulch, and ground cover. When the ground around the tree is bare, the moist soil radiates more heat and the radiated heat helps protect the tree against frost.
Another way to protect a tree from frost is to take larger-sized holiday lights or a couple of 150-watt light bulbs and place them in the central area of the tree. Doing this may add two to four degrees of protection.
For a large tree that needs protection, running sprinklers at the coldest time of the night can help prevent frost damage. This method makes use of latent heat that is released when water changes from liquid to solid form. When ice crystals form on leaves, they draw moisture away from the leaf tissue. The damage from this lack of moisture will be less serious if the tree isn’t already lacking water.
Helping Trees Recover From Frost Damage
If your trees have been damaged by frost, don’t prune them right away. Instead, wait and see what sprouts during the springtime. It could be that the damage is not as bad as it looks and new growth may occur even though you thought the tree was dying or dead. As new leaves grow in the spring and early summer, those twigs and branches killed by frost will be easy to spot and can be cut away. Delay any extensive pruning until the following year so the tree has a chance to grow a new canopy.
However, you should only trust a Certified Arborist to determine whether or not your trees are only suffering from only frost damage. If there are underlying health issues with your trees, waiting to have them assessed by an Arborist can help prevent further damage.
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