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St George Landscaping, Masonry and Excavation

How To Protect Your Desert Plants Through Winter In St. George

Desert Plants

Southern Utah is known for winters that are much milder than those in the state’s northern regions, but a freeze still inevitably sets in. Some years it’s more severe than others.

In December of 2013, a series of snowstorms caused significant damage to area plants, particularly palm trees. Area nurseries reported losing between 20 to 30 percent of their palms, with other hard-hit vegetation including oleander, African sumacs and olive trees. Luckily, there are some measures you, or your local landscapers, can take to protect your plants from dying off amid a winter wonderland.

Cacti And Succulents

Succulents, including cacti, are hardy, drought-tolerant plants that can really take the heat, making them a great choice for St. George landscaping. They can, however, be harmed by frost.

The best protection you can give your succulents during winter is to leave them alone. You don’t need to irrigate them until late February, because they typically go dormant in the winter and cease taking up water.

Even if mild weather prompts your succulents to remain active, you should refrain from watering them. A succulent’s skin absorbs water that can expand when it freezes, causing a plant to split and leading to damage or even death. Giving your succulents the cold shoulder also includes forgoing pruning because it spurs soft new growth that is vulnerable to damage in frosty weather.

Citrus Trees

Some St. George gardeners opt to plant their citrus in a large container to deal with the weather extremes. Dwarf varieties do especially well in pots, which you can bring inside using a plant dolly when it’s expected to freeze.

If you take this tack, it’s best to keep your sheltering citrus in a place that receives natural light because the tree’s leaves will drop off if it tree doesn’t get enough sun. Also, try not to keep your citrus indoors for an extended period of time because prolonged exposure to warmer temperatures can cause it to bloom prematurely.

While they require less water in winter, citrus trees don’t go dormant so make sure you water them. Allowing them to dry out can cause as much damage as a sustained freeze.

Container Plants

Container plants are particularly susceptible to cold because they aren’t insulated by a large amount of soil. For this reason, it’s best to move your subtropical and tropical plants inside or into a garage that receives natural light to protect them from a freeze.

Palm Trees

A cold snap can cause trauma to the sensitive top of palm trees, leading to damage or even death. Sustained low temperatures in the teens or lower can easily kill a young palm that’s not yet established or less hardy species like the Mexican fan palm.

There are good tips on the Gardening Know How site on providing winter protection for palms, one of which can serve a dual purpose. Simply tie the leaves of your palm into a bunch and then wrap them with a string of old-school Christmas lights—the new LED lights don’t emit enough heat—to warm your palms and create holiday festivity!

Shrubs And Vines

Your shrubs, vines and trees need to harden to withstand freezing temperatures. You can do so by halting watering and by feeding them with a fertilizer low in nitrogen and high in phosphorus and potassium. Blanketing the roots area of your shrubs with mulch is another good measure because it encourages root growth and keeps the soil from freezing.


You need to take special precaution to winterize subtropical plants planted in the ground. Start by blanketing their roots with a heavy layer of mulch and then keep an eye on the forecast.

If overnight temperatures are expected to drop below 32 degrees, you can protect your subtropicals with the help of burlap or a thermal plant blanket. Rather than placing your cold barrier directly on the plant, it’s better to create a heated tent solidly propped by stakes, sticks or lumber.

You may also want to check out our blog post on how to winterize your sprinkler system. Thusly prepared, you can rest easy knowing that the plants that beautify your yard will live to see another spring.

Do you have questions about protecting your existing plants or want to improve the look of your grounds, whether by introducing living landscaping or some new hardscape? Contact us at Stonetree, your desert landscape experts.