After the Freeze in Phoenix

Here in Phoenix, we had four consecutive days of below-freezing temperatures in Phoenix. The nighttime temperature went down to 24 degrees F, and the daytime hovered about the high 40s. If you live in the Midwest or East, this doesn’t sound bad at all, but our normal temperatures this time of year are in the low 60s during the day and between 35 and 40 at night.

Our plants are not built for this kind of deep-freeze. Freezing air settles differently in different places–it drifts, it kills the tops of plants more than the bottoms.

Here is some of the freeze damage I saw on my morning walk:


This tree is  a ficus. You know, the fussy plant you have in a decorative planter in your house. We have them as yard trees. In this photo, every leaf that looks brown is dead and will have to be trimmed off. that’s about a third of the tree.

Here’s a close up:


The totem pole cactus stands straight, looking like green candle wax in a chianti bottle. It takes about 20 years to grow one this size. Once it freezes, it can’t hold itself upright. In the background (top, left of the photo), you can see a grasstree with white portions. Those portions are frozen.


Prickly pear and paddle cactus didn’t fare much better:


This cactus will brown over the next few weeks. A more immediate browning happened on this blooming shrub. The white trumpet flowers cover the shrubs all winter. These were caught in mid-blossom:


For a naturalist (like me), seeing these plants dead or injured is painful. Some will come back, some won’t.

I remember New England winter days, after an ice storm, when you could hear the whine of chainsaws up and down the street for days, as they chewed up trees that had fallen or knocked down power lines. In a few weeks, you’ll hear them here, too, as we trim back what froze and wait for new growth.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who is glad that the days of freeze are over. For now.