First frost of season has plant nurseries on alert

First frost of season has plant nurseries on alert

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Even though the temperatures are expected to drop below freezing in Tucson for one night only, plant nurseries said that's enough to do serious damage to their investments.

"It's when we get hit by a surprise freeze that we're most worried about," said Daniel Smit, manager of the Silverbell Nursery.

So in the middle of the afternoon, with the temperatures hovering over 60 degrees, Smit and his employees were busy wrapping the greenhouse in plastic and taking the citrus indoors to protect them in case the temperatures get colder than expected.

"If it gets to 15 to 20, it can cause serious damage," he said. "But anything below freezing is something we have to prepare for."

"The hibiscus, the honeysuckles, are all going into our greenhouse tonight," said Beth Hargrove, owner of the Rillito Garden and Nursery Center on La Cholla.

Hargrove has owned the nursery for 23 years and much of what she's learned has come through trial and error.

"A well-hydrated plant, like a well-hydrated person, can handle more stress," she said.

That is why she'll waters the roots of her citrus tree just outside her office door "but not anything else."

Hargrove's cactus sit in a low lying area on her 3 1/2-acre nursery where the temperatures are lower.

She said not to water the cactus as they retain water, which will make them more susceptible to freezing.

"For people who have the desire to have everything perfect and beautiful," Smit said. "Those are the ones who will spend the time to water, cover and put lights on it."

The old fashioned bulb Christmas lights are a good way to heat the trunk of a citrus tree or add a couple of degrees to some covered plants.

Even old sheets can work to cover aloe vera or other sensitive plants.

"But they (the sheets) need to be removed every day because they can retain moisture," he said.

And even doing one or two, rather than all three, will at least give the plants a chance.

If you do nothing, they will die.

And as far covering the tips of cactus, some people use foam cups. Even little Christmas hats might work.

It doesn't have to be sophisticated.

"We use plastic pots," Hargrove said. "And put a wad of newspaper inside to make sure the plastic is not touching the tip."

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