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Keeping tropicals warm in zone 9b

8 years ago

I have an Alphonso mango in the San Francisco Bay area, ten months old and growing nicely. Last winter we kept it warm with old Christmas lights and a frost cover at night to hold the warmth in and a 24F night didn't bother it. I can do that again--I may need to sew two large frost covers together for this winter--but where the bulbs touched the leaves last time, even though they never felt hot to the touch to me, the leaves looked burned by the end of the winter.

So my question is, what's the best way to keep the tree warm over the long haul? It would be nice not to have that light source at night. I've found soil warming cables for greenhouses; can those be safely wrapped around limbs?

Or maybe a cable at ground level and a cheap plastic pop-up-type greenhouse/frost cover over?

Comments (34)

  • 8 years ago


    Don't know if this will help as I cover a couple of trees not so much for them but for the epiphytes growing on the branches . I use a tent made of frost cloth supported with PVC pipe , Heated with a fan forced electric heater with a themostat . i keep this around 50. I have used a 5 gallon bucket of water warmed with an aquarium heater but produces a LOT of humidity, naturally.

    They make the "frost cloth" in several grades including some that produce heat through chemical reaction. have never tried them???

    my main problem has been overheating the next day and the "frost cloth generally prevents that so I can leave it in place during the usual 3 day run.

    Some "Dont's with the system .Allow the leaves to touch the cloth so build the frame accordingly leave a vent at the top with heater at the bottom facing away from the plant . This creates an upward draft . Don't use plastic as a covering as it will over heat especially in direct sun.

    Generally I've found that most plants can tolerate above frost so usually do nothing but low temps will cause the orchids to drop buds so I do react to under 45 for them .

    Your conditions are probably much different than mine so may not be much help??? good luck gary

    Amaryllis H thanked garyfla_gw
  • 8 years ago

    I did not know there were different grades of frost cloth--thank you! Last year the stake the tree came with was a fair bit taller than the tree, which was helpful with the frost cloth, but now the reverse is definitely true and I'd been wondering if I needed to make sure the cloth didn't touch the leaves--thank you, I'll see what I can do to make sure it doesn't. Is there any kind of heater that you can leave outside like that, or does it have to be totally protected from any chance of water?

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  • 8 years ago

    In 2013 AH, we had that week of cold- remember? I put plastic over mine and then used a spotlight to create the warmth. The kind they use for working on cars. You can get then them at any auto parts store. Last winter we had a short Jan 1st and 2nd cold,I never did cover,and it got by in perfect condition.

    Use a good extension cord too with the spotlight. 75 watts or the standard 150 is good enough for the night.

    Amaryllis H thanked stanofh 10a Hayward,Ca S.F. bay area
  • 8 years ago


    The key would be the duration of the lows .How low does it get and for how long?? Mine are fronts usually 3 days second day the lowest,usually returning to at least the 60's during the day,very dry with humidity dropping to 15% or less brilliant sunshine with no wind .My biggest problem is overheating which means the covering must be removed or highly vented during the day

    Overall the frost cloth has prevented this though in direct sun it does rise into the 80's tolerable so I can leave it in place for the duration .. though one year it failed miserably as the temp stayed below 40 and it rained .

    I would advise against any kind of plastic ,requires to much maintenance!! unless your temps stay low during day and you're around to monitor it.

    If you go the light bulb as a heat source you can get IR types specificly made to produce heat. There are even types that produce no light . Naturally requires careful sizing of the bulbs as well as being sure it's not directed at the foliage. I'd certainly use a thermostat

    Google "frostcloth" and find a type that will fits your needs ?? As i mentioned ,have never used the heat producing types as it's expensive and overkill for my situation But if you have low daytimes may be worth it??? gary

    Amaryllis H thanked garyfla_gw
  • 8 years ago

    We're in 9b and

    have daytimes that are usually in the safe range for the mango, 40+ and usually above in the winter; freezing by day is very rare here--but nighttime lows are often quite a bit lower. Again, usually above freezing, but as stanofh mentioned, Jan 1 and 2 we had it at 24F, the coldest temps in a year.

    I found that the Christmas lights/frost cover combination had a hard time bringing the temp under the cover back up but they did keep it from going too low. We kept a remote-read thermometer under there and a thermostat that kicks the lights on at 60 always kept it above 40 on the coldest nights. That was with one string and a whip of a tree. It's definitely bigger now.

    I'd never heard of a bulb that doesn't produce light. That sounds really good. Christmas lights light up the night more than I would like, thank you!

    Thank you both for the ideas and I will go do some exploring with them.

  • 8 years ago

    my mistake last year was to cover my papaya but not let the cover reach the ground. i learned it does nothing unless it keeps the ground warmth in.... i have a mango about this size in a container, it hit 28F last year and no damage except a few leaf tips, but very minor. The papaya was another story. i saved 1 that was near my house. i think large frost cloth (air tight this time) should be good enough with the heat of the house helping.

  • 8 years ago

    So turns out we've been having a really cold season of it, with quite a few nights across three weeks that have been down in the twenties. Very unusual. The uppermost branch on my mango curved downward over time and the stake is again the tallest point. I put a second strand of C9 Christmas lights on it a couple months ago, since that was the easiest, fastest thing to do given that I already had them, and at night I cover the tree with two layers of frost covers, keeping the bottom edges even with the ground with large pieces of gravel. The first layer is touching those leaves but the second layer, I figured, is not--and so far so good.

    The typical reading at the coldest point at dawn is 19 degrees above the outside air, and that's with some bulbs burned out. I take the covers off when the day warms up enough (or just one for the morning if it's cold.)

    The only burning I've had this year is not from where the light bulbs touch any leaves, which is what I thought the problem was last year, but from the one night I got home at nearly 10 pm in mid-December in a hurry to throw on those covers fast: the lights were on automatically but it was about 40F and it took a little bit for the warmth to build up under there as the outside continued to go down. A few crisped edges from that on the uppermost leaves. But none from any other time as far as I can tell. Two frost covers and old lights for the win!

    The frost covers are shaping the tree a bit now and I really should have sewed multiples together already to give it more space. I don't know yet if the branches will respond to spacers in the spring or if I'll have pruning as my only option by then to keep them from crossing.

  • 8 years ago

    I've been considering planting a parfianka pomegranate. I have a spot that doesn't get sun in the winter but gets plenty in the summer, up against the corner of a six-foot fence, and I've wondered if one could do okay there.

  • 8 years ago

    Thats a good looking tree AH. About as tall as the 6' fence? You will find that a light frost wont bother a tree that's been in ground a few years. Are you in the tri valley or Walnut Creek area? That 19f and 24f you mentioned is very low. If you are- then the hot summers will do the tree nothing but good. Its nice to see somebody take advantage of a climate fine for Mangoes 10 or 11 months of the year.

    Amaryllis H thanked stanofh 10a Hayward,Ca S.F. bay area
  • 8 years ago

    Thank you! It's even fuller-looking now. We had five days in September where it was over a hundred degrees during the day and I got a sudden late flush of growth. Those leaves have filled out to their full length now. The tree's about four and a half feet tall, I'd say, but wide.

    I'm on the Peninsula and fairly close to the Bay. Traditionally the summers here have been all about the cool and the fog but not this past one, that's for sure; it was a hot one. This winter we've had quite a few nights in the lower 30s and upper 20s. Not 19F, though--that number referred to the difference between the outside air and the temp reading under the frost cover. Those lights are doing a great job.

  • 8 years ago

    hi Amary,

    where exactly are you in peninsula? I'm in redwood city, about 1-2miles away from the water, and my lowest according to is mid 30F so far. It's interesting you mentioned 20s. I have several mango tree which I have in pots that are outside by the fence, that's them most sunniest part of the yard. I cover them with black weed cloth every night and take them out during the day. so far, they are doing well. looks pretty green, no burns yet.

  • 8 years ago

    I can only assume you mean me? Amaryllis is the name of my favorite flower.

    Okay, so: I'm a bit south of you. I have a weather station that consistently reads a few degrees lower at night than does. Given when the water freezes, mine is correct for my microclimate.

    Wonderful that your mangoes are doing well! Have you had any blooms yet? My Alphonso's flowers are the most exquisite scent my garden has ever had.

    Here's an updated picture taken just now, covers off. Planted exactly one year ago.

  • 8 years ago

    beautiful! how big was it when you got it last year? I purchase mine around september of this year, all of them are 3gal except for one that's 7gal, the roseligold. I'm waiting until march or whenever my greenhouse is finish to plant them into the crates and into the ground. My mango fetish just started this year.

    Amaryllis H thanked Kyna Lim
  • 8 years ago

    I bought it as a seven gallon a year ago. It actually produced one pea-sized mango in April, but let it drop because it was just too young.

  • 8 years ago

    This is Baileys Mango- not much of spreading type- more vertical. It had about 9 fruits on it last summer. Very sweet but small. When I had it in a pot it grew to about 7' tall. In 2012 a frost killed it to about 16". The next spring I planted it out. Now,about 5' and it went through more cold this last event then the 2012 was,without ever covering it. Older and in ground is a big advantage.

    White Sapote 'Suebelle' to the left.

  • 8 years ago

    good info Stan, i will have to put the mango into a milk crate to protect from gopher and place it into the ground in march. looks like your banana are fried like mine too. I'm afraid to plant sapote into ground because of the huge roots and it has tendency to spring up. It's in a big pot now.

  • 8 years ago

    Good luck with them all, both of you, and stanofh, wonderful to see your Bailey's has come back around like that. It's a beautiful tree and I can only imagine how the fruit must have tasted straight off the tree.

  • 8 years ago


    that mango looks well protected.

    in a corner, and that banana will help too.

    does it get enough sun ?

    i guess it will reach for more when it get bigger...

    in spring i will put my 7 gal in ground

    i am thinking next to a banana in between my house and the neighbor

    but not sure if it will get enough sun.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    Greenman- that gets near the hottest sun of summer. I also prune that Sapote back a few feet. Its in need of that again. Once that Baileys gets to that roof? It will be getting near sun up to sundown warm.

    Take a look at the vid link I posted (why I couldnt do it direct here but could on other forums is a mystery) And you will see he wrote of another Baileys Marvel doing well. They have the advantage of being fast vertical growers. Fast growth in a very marginal climate is a huge help.

    And,as I add to my own learning experience? Mangoes develop much more cold hardiness in ground then in a pot where they are always frost sensitive. I would advice bay area people to get them into a hot spot in ground asap. A WARNING!..I also have learned make SURE the mango you bought has filled the pot with roots. You dont want the soil to fall off when you take the tree out. Thats a good way (or a huge setback) to kill them on a nice day.

  • 8 years ago

    //I would advice bay area people to get them into a hot spot in ground asap //

    Any reason you mention the Bay Area ? i am in New Orleans...

    i had decided to keep my Florigon in a container until it was larger... seedlings always have more cold sensitivity than larger trees. so i decided to wait to plant my mango till spring... its in a 7gal, and its pretty large, so, i imagine its full of roots.

    I did read Baileys is a tad more hardy than other varieties. Was that you that had originally posted that ?

    My plan on cold-hardy mango was to get seeds for mango types from North India (climate gets freezing temps) . I researched what was grown in those areas (and the parentage -lineage) and got a couple of those seeds a few months ago. only 2 germinated, but they are growing nicely now.

    Last year we hit 28F twice, although my micro-climates i think must have been much warmer... my Florigon was perfectly fine. i had lost a black sapote and a jackfruit, but one of each also made it in different spots. a 10gal Mamey lost its leaves and some small wood, but came back with vigor.

    I did loose 2 mango seedlings about a foot tall, they were not protected very well though.

    We get temps down into the upper 20s every couple of years, but, we also have years with no freezes at all.

    This year the coldest its been is 45F... LOL... papaya still have all their leaves (fingers crossed - ive seen it freeze here in early March), but it is a crazy year... POM fig, mulberry usually loose their leaves in November.. ALL of them still have 1/2 their leaves !!! i am hoping this doesnt effect fruit production ?

  • 8 years ago

    I bought mine mail order from Florida and it came with the roots wrapped up in moist wood shavings and most of the soil removed. The instructions were to plant it immediately in a temporary pot and keep it out of direct sun for a week or so while it recovered from being in a box in a truck for five days, then move it to ground if possible. So I did. I read that it's very easy to damage the roots when transplanting a mango and that the tree is very vulnerable to dying from the shock of such damage, so work carefully.

    My Alphonso is an Indian variety; I was told by an Indian friend (who urged me to plant one and happily talked me into it in the first place) that it is the most sought after type there, but rarely found if you don't have a tree because they have no fibers and don't suffer supermarket handling well. The perfume! he told me, in rapturous memory.

    Having had mine flower now, I can only imagine, if the fruit tastes anywhere near how those!

    According to Fairchild, which has been breeding mangoes for a hundred years, there are no true freeze-proof varieties. Using non-LED Christmas lights and a frost cover at night anchored down to the ground, mine has done great. Two layers of frost cover, when it gets down in the 30s at night, to keep the leaves from burning from touching a direct connection to the outside air. Note that when it's only the lights on, the temp reading is about three or four degrees warmer than the ambient air; add two frost covers, it's nineteen to twenty-one degrees warmer, just one frost cover, twelve to fourteen or so.

    This tree is my pet project and I love to see it thriving against the odds.

  • 8 years ago

    so i have a florigon that s 2 or 3 yrs old from seed

    it was getting large for the container , so, i decided to put it in ground.

    the next day we had 45mph winds - temps dropped to 34F, coldest all year by far.

    it seems as it barely noticed. no damage at all. i just hope we dont get a hard freeze before spring.

    a small bud popped out, which doesnt look like new growth, but, im not sure ??

    being between houses and the fence behind it, i am hoping it will have enough protection to make it. there is a guava and a mulberry planted pretty close, i am thinking will also protect it. they are smaller, and on the south side of it... so even in a few years i think them blocking any sun will be minimal. (you cant really see the mulberry as it lost its leaves, and is only 2ft tall)

    I cant find ANYONE who has tried growing mango in the New Orleans area at all... so, i guess this is new territory.

  • 8 years ago

    Old C9 (not LED) Christmas lights really do help, or even just a frost cover alone. Looking good so far. Good luck!

  • 8 years ago

    Man,I would think N.O. would have a rare fruit tree chapter. You can grow anything with some protection Dec-Jan. Not asking too much. I would think Greenman you could do Atemoya all types of Guava's. Try Jackfruit. I would if I lived in N.O. At least try!

    I used to think potted Mangoes grew faster. But, IF you have an in ground spot where the sun beats down on the ground summer and winter? Mangoes in ground do grow faster and without a doubt are hardier to cold in winter. For one thing,in the bay area and back east in N.O. or central Florida- the ground never freezes. Soil in a pot on a 32f night..might partially. Killing roots.

  • 8 years ago

    Nice job, if you can over winter a mango there then growing a pomegranate should be a breeze.

  • 8 years ago


    yeah, i have jackfruit.

    i killed 2, and have 2 left. 1 in a container i put in the greenhouse last winter

    and one i put in the ground. last year that one died to the ground and came back in spring... this year, it hadnt even lost any leaves... hope i am not speaking too soon. 2 nights ago was the coldest we had this year, at 33F (the news said) but i saw frost on the ground. and lost of papaya lost thier leaves, but it wasnt a hard freeze, and i lost no plants at all.

    i have several guava, and even trying some guava relatives, and 3 types of Jaboticaba... also have white sapote, black sapote, mamey, loquat, mulberry, fig, POM, Kiwi etc...

    black sapote and mamey seem to be the most sensitive so far. i greenhouse them in winter. the black sapote are growing out of their 3gal pots, and the mamey is growing out of its 10gal, which is too big to greenhouse now, and will have to survive on its own.... it did see 28F last year and defoliated, but came back strong in spring... i lost 2 black sapote at 25F, so, i am waiting till these get in 10gal pots to put in ground and cross my fingers.

    no one i know of is growing ANY of these (except loquat and fig), so, i guess i really should have a journal of some kind... LOL...

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    I'm in Orlando FL (9b). I over protected my trees on the small freezes we had in 2014-2015 Winter (a few mid to low 30s days, not many) by placing a plastic custom built square green house made of heavy duty plastic and PVC piping. The trees had less than 4 months in ground at the time.

    February, we typically have 3 freezing days mid to low 30s back to back to back.. I left the plastic on the 3 near freezing temps over night and the coldest day I left it on 24 hours. By the following week, we did not have any more freezing temps. It was back in the 70s and would only get warmer as March came. I believe I cooked the top leaves and part of its branch by doing this.

    For 2016, I wanted to try something different w frost cloths. I left one tree uncovered (about 6' from my Northern facing wall of my home, nothing else to really protect it). Nothing has happened to it at all. My other Mango tree (15' from the wall, closer to the middle of my yard) was covered anytime the weather man said its going into the 30s (usually 39* with two mid 30 days so far). I put two frost cloths on and left it over night in those two 39* nights. It ended up burning some of the leaves at the top.. Nothing too crazy but noticeable.

    Going forward I decided to leave the trees completely uncovered unless it is forecasted to be under 36*.

    My trees are going on 3 years by this coming spring.

  • 8 years ago

    I wouldn't cover for 39f either. I now wait until they say low 30's. Its the only temp that damages most of what we try. I don't have Breadfruit or those ultratropicals that wince at 45f.

    Papaya and Mango and Banana's are fine until near freezing. Its when they say freezing and under? THAT'S when I get out the extension cord and heat with plastic,etc. Usually that kind of cold is an event that's going to last 3-7 days each morning. You definitely want to mitigate the duration.

  • 8 years ago

    As far as any freeze proof Mangoes? I dont know that Farichild's results transfer to other climates. Bailey's has done well- almost great considering- with cold. Manila is right there with it. And go to Youtube and Antonia is supposed to be the most cold hardy. A Med climate grown and tested Mango,that no doubt would do well in New Orleans humid subtropical climate. You would have to try it Greenman- only you will know if its pest and disease resistant in N.O. But,at least you know it can take cold..they say-lol.

    Also- Amaryllis mentions some Mangoes supposedly too tender- FAR too tender for the SF bay area. And yet there they are!

    Heck,I have one very vigorous survivor of a trio of Champagne seedlings I started. If I had went by just one seedling that died?...but,now I see the good of planting a few. Start your own local hardy Mango.

    btw-That box of Champagne was the sweetest of all the small Mango fruits I've ever bought. So,I will see if the seedling holds true...

  • 8 years ago

    Mallika is supposed to be one of the more disease-resistant varieties; it's an Indian dessert type. It's also slow growing and good for raising as a potted tree next to the nice warm house, from what I've read, and I almost bought one. But then my friend from India went on at great length about how perfect, how sought after the Alphonso was back in India and convinced me so that's what I planted. I don't know yet about the fruit, but I can tell you the flowers smelled as exquisite as he described.

  • 8 years ago
    last modified: 8 years ago

    That sounds great. A healthy aroma means healthy tree. I think AH, in the bay area? Hardiness goes way up if you get them going in the ground. The soils micronutrients are there when the tree gets well rooted. The soils temps don't get as cold in winter. I also see the Mango in the Fremont youtube vid are growing in a lawn..with grass right to the trunk. I looked at a google 2011 shot of that plant and it was just a 3' stick. That's huge growth,far more than I thought possible. A lesson is- they like fertilizer. I wouldn't doubt it thrived on plain 20-0-0 Ammonia nitrate. Just a guess.

    That tree and those full sized fruit are worth a pilgrimage! knock on the door and ask the story and what type it is.

  • 8 years ago

    I'm on the Peninsula in the SFBay area, yes. The kicker is that I had a neighbor who had this strange looking tall plant in his front yard with no central leader, just a bunch of branches curving downward from the center with these weird things hanging from ropes and I never got up the nerve to ask him what that thing was. About fifteen years ago he sold the house and the thing was taken out--and now I know it was a mango, most likely an ice cream variety mango. Never saw anything on it trying to keep the thing warm so it may be that it died of the cold at last; I don't know. But if only I'd known then. All the questions I could have asked!

  • 7 years ago
    last modified: 7 years ago

    I'm not finding the thread now where I wondered whether I should prune a particular branch on my 18-month-old Alphonso mango or not, just as a flush of growth was winding down during the summer--but I did prune it. I had pruned the rest of the tree awhile earlier and it was growing like crazy, a little too much so in this one spot--it was just one solitary branch going almost to the ground.

    And then it just sat there looking stumped. In October (!) the tree finally responded to that pruning with a flush of tender new

    growth, there and in one other random spot; slower than summer, but still, five new branches, and now there's budding. So cool. (Is it normal for it to be budding in November?)

    But why I most wanted to come back was to thank Stanofh for his help. For the advice that my Alphonso mango needed to be kept warmer than I'd been doing in order for it to bloom. This is a warmer fall than last year's, which helps, but I've been putting my two frost cover layers over the tree right at sundown rather than waiting for the temps to get down into the fifties--what I'd read previously was that it just had to stay above 40 for the inflorescence and that cold prompts it to start budding. That appears to have been incomplete information at best. And I reset the temp control attached to the incandescent Christmas lights to click on sooner.

    I went looking again for a book, any book, on how to grow them and found one by Lee Reich that had a short entry on mangoes. He said they have to stay above 55 consistently to flower. Which is pretty much what Stanofh had said. So I guess there's cold and there's its idea of what cold is supposed to mean.

    Stanofh, when I taste my first homegrown mango I will be thanking you for it.