It is interesting after a “cold winter” how many people are totally surprised and confused. “Bakersfield never freezes!” “Why do your plants look so good?” “How do I cover my whole yard?” “When do I prune?” “If I water, won’t my plants freeze worse?” Here are some general answers to some of the questions we get everyday, like the questions above. Hopefully this will help clarify some of the confusion.
To begin our discussion, Bakersfield heat is not the main factor in killing plants. It’s the cold. I think people actually get that it’s hot and they plant accordingly. The point that most miss is that every so often we get very cold. Even colder than this year. We have been known to experience temperaturess into the high teens. Those are called “killer frosts.” Think back and you will remember several — it seems about every 8 - 10 years they show up. That being said, I doubt that it’s the smartest choice to plant a “Tropical Garden” in this valley. Some tropicals are fine. But remember to pick some hardy plant material as well — so when it does get cold (and it will) we are not replacing everything.
Next, you don’t cover the whole yard — there are many plants that take our temperatures just fine. Some even require chill to do well. Educate yourself about the requirements of each plant you choose. You will then know your “problem children” and what needs protection. Covering , spraying with an anti-transparent and plant placement in the yard can all help you successfully grow frost tender varieties. Out in open areas, choose plants that thrive in our climate. Open up your “pallet” of plant choices and you can create a garden that is beautiful and will be much easier to maintain.
Prune most dormant trees and shrubs in the winter. Do not prune frost tender plants until all danger of frost is over. In Bakersfield, that could mean as late as March or April. Another note — early spring bloomers should be pruned after they bloom. Plants like forsythias, spirea, azaleas, camellias and lilac all should get their haircut after flowering. If you prune them in the winter the will not flower.
Water your plants and trees well when they are dry. Dry plants will freeze harder than plants that are well watered. We do not get enough natural rainfall to grow much more than sagebrush and tumble weeds — so be sure and maintain a “smart” watering schedule. Here’s a basic rule of thumb for watering: Water long and deep when the ground is dry; check at least 6 inches deep and see whats going on below the surface.
My last point is that the plants and trees at Robby’s Nursery look good because we follow all of these tips. We try and carry plants that do well in our climate — the exotic plants that can suffer in our cold we try to protect. Plants that do get nipped by the frost, we wait to prune until the appropriate time. And everyday our staff takes care to water what is dry — and skip what does not need water.
By following these basic guidelines, you too, can have a great looking yard year round.