Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Futile Attempts to Thwart Mother Nature, AZ

I THOUGHT I was well prepared for the cold snap last week here in Arizona.  I had
December 30th Afternoon
- boxes to cover plants
- rocks to hold the boxes down (against the wind)
- old bed sheets
- 32 oz stryofoam cups
- rolls of blue "painters tape" to secure the cups on less stout plants
- light permeable "frost cloths" from Elgin Nursery
- a garage with room enough to store potted plants and utility lights to warm the area around the plants
...and I was on vacation, so I had ample time to apply all of these devices and techniques.  I foolishly thought I could overcome Mother Nature with my human ingenuity, energy, cognition, and persistence.  Silly me.

Dec 30th Afternoon
Now, after the cold spell, the following observations can be made:
- boxes to cover plants work, use big enough rocks to secure the boxes
The incorrect way to apply a "frost cloth", as it does not extend all the way to the ground around the palm.
- "frost cloths" need to cover not just the leaves of the plant, but go from the top of the plant down to the ground, to "lock in" the ground's latent heat, or the cold air will just swirl under the cloth and attack the plant.
- styrofoam cups on mexican fence post cacti arms are fine, but
- styrofoam cups over aloe, honeysuckle, or hibiscus blossoms are a FAILURE
- bed sheets, when weighted down sufficiently by rocks, can be a temporarily effective means of resisting frost
- the garage stayed in the 50s, adjacent to the house, and the plants in the garage did just fine.
The concept, is to
a) retain latent plant heat
b) retain latent ground heat around the plant
c) prevent cold & moist air from settling on the leaves and stems of the sensitive plants
The nice thing about the "frost cloth" is that you can leave it in place over multiple nights, as the sunlight can "filter through" it to help the plant.  The bad thing about it, is it is $15 a sheet (15 foot x 10 foot).

The concept is not as easy to apply as one would think.  Wrestling a 250 square foot cloth over a 6 foot tall palm single-handedly is very frustrating.  Trying to secure 32 oz cups to delicate flowering plants only damages.  Securing 32 oz cups to a structure - like a pool fence - is possible using painter's tape, but it is not entirely practical or effective.

So now I must practice Ksanti (kṣānti'  or  patience) and not prune my damaged garden until the weather is appreciably warmer.  Let Nature take her course, slowly but surely.  
32 oz styrofoam cups can effectively insulate the tips of the arms of cactus. For larger arms, I used cardboard boxes.  Unfortunately, the smallest box of cups I could buy at Costco was Qty 500.

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