Getting Ready for 21 Degrees Fahrenheit
by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law
In 2009 we had real winter. On December 4 and 5 it got into the high twenties. It snowed. It sleeted. There was frost. But, at least in the Heights, it was above 28 degrees Fahrenheit.

As I write this, it is Monday morning, January 4th. They are predicting low twenties by Thursday night/Friday morning. And cold all week long. This is serious. This page will chronicle my efforts to fight this weather. It is very much a work in progress. Check back often.

First: Drive around your neighborhood and pick up the bags of leaves your neighbors have set out on the curb. Depending on the size of your plant, it will take one to four bags to protect a plant. The goal is to make a a pyramid of leaves around the plant/citrus tree, making it as high as possible so as to cover the leaves. If you are short on leaves, be sure to at least cover the graft.

Second: Buy freeze cloths: Good luck on this. If you don't go early, they will all be gone. Independent nurseries are your best bet. Hardware stores may have some. If you can't find freeze cloths, use old sheets or blankets or mattress pads. Do not use plastic next to the leaves. It will transfer the cold to the leaves.

Third: Buy old fashioned wooden clothes pins. You will use them to close gaps in the freeze cloth. Get lots. Binder clips also work. In a pinch, use string to close any gaps in the freeze cloth.

Fourth: Anchor your freeze cloth with rocks. It won't do the plants any good if high winds blow the cloth (and heat) away.

Fifth: Use old-fashioned Christmas lights to add heat.

Sixth: Bring pots inside. At 21 degrees, there is a serious risk that the soil will freeze. If the pot is too big, water it just before you go to bed. The water will act as insulation.

On the way to work on Monday I stopped at Buchanan's Native Plants and bought two freeze cloths. They are ten feet by twelve feet and cost $15.00 each. Yikes. Still, be have some new citrus trees, and I am worried about those who are facing their first year in the cold.

On Monday evening Maria and I leaf rustled 29 bags of leaves, and I put a bunch of them around the citrus. Of course, by the time we both got home it was totally dark. That made it easy to take the leaves, but not much fun to put them in place. I placed two big bags around the jujube, two around each cherry tree and two or three around the grapefruit, lime, lemons and kumquat. I have more for the orange and the graft on the peach. Boy was it cold work. The overnight low is predicted to be 29 degrees. More cold on the way.

On Tuesday morning at 6:25 a.m. the outside temperature was 30 degrees. Channel 11 also reported 30 degrees for downtown. reported 31 degrees. They also continued to predict 21 degrees for Thursday night. Yikes. No warming trend yet.

When Maria and I arrived home on Tuesday night, we went to Petsmart and bought a Marineland Stealth Shatter Proof Heater, 100 watt. It is rated for up to 30 gallons. DON"T TRY THIS YOURSELF, but I attached it to the outside of a small bread loaf pan (with rocks inside) and put it into our outdoor pond. I ran the cord to a staked outlet and plugged it in. This is our attempt to save our mollies. They made it through last winter, but it never even froze. The heater I purchased is not supposed to be used outdoors, and I am definitely not recommending anyone else try this.

Tuesday night I did my experiment on whether water in a pot actually makes the soil temperature warmer. I will write up the details, but the test was inconclusive. Even so, there was about a two degree difference, with the wet soil slightly warmer.

Wednesday morning changed it prediction of 21 degrees to 26 degrees on Thursday. They have a 23 degree low now for Friday. Still bad.

Several mollies are hovering around the Marineland heater. Several others were not. The water temperature in the pond was 48 degrees. I am worried about the pond temperature this weekend.

I finished putting out the 29 bags of leaves. I reserved two bags for overlooked "emergencies." I managed to thoroughly cover the citrus for about two and a half feet of height. I got down the Christmas lights and plan to lace them through the citrus tonight and cover the tops with freeze cloth. Stay tuned.

Wednesday night I placed eight strands of 25 bulb Christmas lights on the branches of the citrus. Using a heavy-duty extension cord, I ran the electricity from the house out to the trees and plugged everything in. It worked. Okay, I broke two bulbs on rocks while placing the lights, but I did have spare bulbs. By the time I finished, it was 6:20, and I had a party to attend that started at 6 pm. That ended my freeze preparations for the day.

Thursday morning I awoke to the sound of heavy rain. They say the rain will end in a couple of hours when the cold front arrives. No motorcycle ride this morning. No walk for Sarah. I rustled one last bag of leaves from a neighbor and checked the pond temperature. The outside temperature read 54 degrees and the pond was 53 degrees. I noticed that even more Mollies were gathered around the heater we put in the pond. Hope they make it.

I checked and got more bad news. They have lowered their predictions. Now, for the first time, they are saying that we might get to a low of 20 degrees on Friday night/Saturday morning. Sure hope they are wrong.

I still have to put the freeze cloths on the tops of the citrus. At 5 pm it is supposed to be 41 degrees, as per So I still have time for this task. I will decide at the last minute whether to turn off the water tonight before going to bed. Stay tuned.

Thursday, 11:20 pm, January 7, 2010: I have just turned off the water outside. I turned it off at the valve under the house. I opened each of the four outside bibs and drained them. I left them open. I came inside and opened the spigots on the downstairs faucets and drained them.

Earlier this evening Maria and I finished winter prep. We put 10 by 12 freeze cloths over the citrus/Christmas lights. We anchored the cloth with rocks. We covered a few plants, took a few more pots inside, emptied the birdbaths, emptied the rain gauges (we got three tenths an inch of rain from 6 am) and froze, froze, froze. Ugh. I then went for my motorcycle ride and called it quits until now.

I printed out both the predictions and the ones. They are pretty different. Accuweather says the low will be 28 degrees at five a.m. says the low will be 26 degrees at 4 a.m. Both agree that it is 32 degrees at 11:20 p.m. Time for bed.

Friday night: It didn't get warm during the day. I got home around 5:30 p.m. and Maria and I moved in the clay pots on the back porch, even the roses. The roses looked fine, but 22 degree temperatures are predicted, and I didn't want to take a chance. One we got going, we move in most of the pots. The garage quickly got full. I surrounded the Harley with plants because this morning, when I tried to go for a ride, the battery would not turn over the motor. It still had a little life, so I plan to do a trickle charge on Saturday to see if I can save. it. Ugh.

I tested the pond temperature. The mollies weren't hovering around the heater. Maria think the heater broke. Ugh. I found two dead mollies about three feet from the heater. The pond temperature was 43 degrees this morning and 41 degrees at 6:15 p.m. today. Outside temperature was 31. Yikes.

I still plan to turn the water off at the outside valve tonight, drain the lines and turn it back on in the morning. This task only took about five minutes last night, but it was a miserable five minutes. Tonight should be at least as bad. But I don't want any busted pipes. Stay tuned for more.

Saturday morning, January 9, 2010: At 6:13 a.m. the back porch thermometer showed 23 degrees. agreed. The pond thermometer said 37 degrees. I saw the goldfish swimming about. I couldn't tell about the mollies, but I fear the worst. I got the paper, fed Sarah, and did not turn the water back on. says it will be 26 degrees at 7 and 27 degrees at 8.

Saturday night: I ignored the cold all day. It got up to about 38 degrees. Tonight, at 10:30 p.m. I turned off the water. It was 33 degrees out. Expected low is 25 degrees. This is getting tiring. Stay warm.

Sunday morning: I turned on the water this morning and everything was fine. A5t 6:15 a.m. the back porch thermometer read 25 degrees. and Accuweather both said 28 degrees. I rechecked the back porch and 25 was the reading. Ugh.

Sunday evening: predicted 26 degrees for the overnight low. Tiredly, I cut off the water again. This is really getting old.

Monday morning: The radio reported 25 degrees at the airport and 27 degrees in Pasadena. They did not give the downtown temperature. I waited until seven to turn the water back on. I discovered that the faucets were dripping water at a pretty fast rate. I checked the cutoff valve and it was closed tight. I wonder if I wore out the valve with all this recent action in the cold weather. For whatever reason, the valve no longer completely cuts off the water. Ugh.

No problems though, because the back porch thermometer read 29 degrees. I declare this situation over. End of blog.

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