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We’re having our first actual bout of Winter here in the swamp this week. The front came through late Sunday night/early Monday morning, and it got down close to or just below freezing last night. I’m expecting a freeze warning tonight again. Actual frosts are very rare here, and snow is even more rare, so even the native plants can take damage from a particularly long cold snap.

The sun is bright today, which is part of why it’s cold. The air is drier than usual, so there’s not a cloud cover to keep the warmth up next to the Earth. Later this week, when the usual coastal moisture comes back, it’s going to warm back up.

Dealing with frost down here in Zone 9a is a tricky thing. We have drop cloths and old sheets in a bin in the garage that get dragged out and spread over all the delicate things that live here. I keep a small citrus tree in my yard that’s particularly susceptible to frost, and things like a dieffenbachia (dumbcane), a pencil cactus, and a plumeria have to get moved into the sun porch and sheltered well against cold. This can be challenging, especially because the plumeria is nearly as big as I am.

I also have a large hibiscus – by large I mean it’s taller than the garage doors – that I don’t think I’ll be able to really cover well this year. It didn’t die back last year, so it’s gotten enormous. I really hope it doesn’t end up frostbitten!

We have lots of areas in the yard for small critters to shelter, like our woodpile and in the shrubs next to the house, but I always worry a little about the toads and lizards. We frequently find them trying to stowaway into the house, which is a dangerous place, as I have cats!  This is a good place to live, if you’re a cold blooded animal, but these periodic cold nights have to be tough.

People who live here tend to get grief about not knowing what to do when it’s cold, and to some extent that’s true. Not even the native things that live here are really designed to deal with the cold. I grew up in a northeastern state, where the squirrels are fat and furry and have enormous tails. Squirrels around here are skinny, with skinny tails that you can almost see through. They’re not accustomed to the cold because they really don’t need to be.

Which is why I’m wearing my warm things without shame.

It’s chilly, but it won’t last long.

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