Ensuring Your Outdoor Plants Survive the Winter in Socal

Written by Kelsey W.

Southern California isn’t known for its freezing temperatures, wild snowy weather, and icicles, but the region does have its fair share of chilly nights and windy days. The coldest temperature ever recorded in the City of Los Angeles was 27 degrees Fahrenheit, which occurred on January 4, 1948.

Would your outdoor plants survive such a plunge? If you live in one of the desert communities of Southern California, will your plants enjoy the freezing desert nights? After all, it did plunge to 18 degrees Fahrenheit in 1911 in Riverside, and it dropped to 33 degrees once in Santa Monica, which is just a single degree above freezing.

If you’re worried about your friendly little plants surviving the Southern California winter, whether it brings freezing rain, blustery cold winds, or unseasonably low temperatures, consider the following steps to help your plants survive the SoCal winter.

Simple Steps to Keep Your Outdoor Plants Humming Through Winter

SoCal residents are incredibly lucky in that plants tend to grow easily throughout the winter, and it’s not uncommon to see vibrant flowers like blooming roses in the middle of a cool spell in November. One of the best things you can do, however, to ensure the survival of your plants in the winter is to change your watering and feeding habits.

Don’t get too friendly with the watering can.

Did you know that many plants don’t need any fertilizer in the winter and may actually get quite dissatisfied with you if you try to feed them in the middle of December? Plants like cactuses enter a dormant phase in the winter where they focus on survival, and many cactuses don’t need any water or food from November to February.

If the temperatures increase for a short time (like a random 90-degree day in December), feel free to water your dry cactuses; they should appreciate a bit of hydration. However, most native Southern California plants don’t need any more water than what the weather provides, especially after they’re established in the ground. 

You can almost forget to water plants like sedum, Jade plants, bougainvillea, blanket flowers, and oleanders for the entire winter, and they’ll survive just fine.

Keep an eye on the weather.

You never know what SoCal will bring in terms of weather. It may rain for three days straight, or the region might experience a frost. If the forecast calls for a significant amount of rain, you might want to move your potted saguaro cactus inside to avoid the rain. 

Another option is to cover your rain-sensitive plants with a plastic cover. Check any potted plants you have, too, and make sure they don’t have any standing water in them after the rain. Unless you’re growing bamboo, you shouldn’t have any plants sitting in a pool water for more than a day.

Likewise, if temperatures dip a little too low for your plants’ liking, break out the tarps, sheets, blankets, or cardboard. Make sure to cover the plants before the sun goes down, so you can trap some of the warmer daytime air under the cover to help the plants survive the night.

Don’t Forget About Your Indoor Plants

You may assume it’s business as usual for your indoor plants, whether it’s summer or winter, but there are a few seasonal changes you’ll want to consider as you tend to your houseplants from November through March. Although the plants probably won’t have any trouble with the inside temperature, even if you don’t use the heat, remember that the path of the sun in the sky changes dramatically in the winter.

If you have a northern-facing window with a few houseplants, remember that they won’t get any direct sunlight in the winter because the arc of the sun in the sky is so far to the south. If you have something like a pothos or a philodendron in a north-facing window, you shouldn’t need to move it since those plants can grow just about anywhere.

However, you may want to relocate your plants to a south-facing window in the winter if you have any of the following growing in your home:

  • Jade plants
  • Jasmine
  • String of pearls
  • Golden barrel cactus
  • Echeveria
  • Burro’s tail

You may also want to take note of the radiators, vents, and doors in your home and how the environment will change in the winter. If you regularly use heat that blasts out from floor vents in your home, the plants living near those vents might dry out more quickly than you realize. You might want to move the plant away from the vent or set a reminder to water it a day or two early in the heater season.

Throw Caution to the Wind and Grow These Plants Outside in the Winter

Not all plants need tender loving care in cold temperatures in Southern California. You’ll find a few flowers that actually love the cool winter temperatures and thrive from December into the New Year. Your first option is the calendula, which you might confuse with a marigold but which is actually a cool weather flower rather than a big summer bloom like the marigold

Calendulas are beautifully bright and cheery with their orangey-yellow flowers, and they’ll make it easier to deal with the early sunsets the winter brings. Just because the sun goes down at 4:30 PM doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a beautiful sunny flower in your garden in the winter. Even better, the flower will continue to bloom throughout the year and will still give you a few flowers in the summer.

If you live in an area of Southern California where the temperatures touch or go below freezing, you might want to consider planting snapdragons, which are said to survive down to 18 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s even possible for these hardy yet playful flowers to survive a dusting of snow, as long as it doesn’t snow too much or too often. Snapdragons are beautifully colorful, so they’re another option to consider for a cheery winter garden.

The third option for winter blooms is the pansy, which will not only give you winter blooms but will bloom all year in Southern California. When other flowers have gone to sleep for the winter, pansies keep on blooming, even if they become frozen with ice and seem suspended in time. 

Remember the feisty pansies featured in the 1951 animated Disney film “Alice in Wonderland”? These small yet spirited flowers can survive just about any weather SoCal has to offer. You’ll even find them defiantly and beautifully poking through the ground when the landscape is covered in snow just to show us they can do anything.

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