How to Fight the Frost

pumpkinThe last two days of cool weather have been a wake-up call that summer is fading and fall is almost here.

Many of us want to hang on to our colorful pots of annuals and the fresh basil as long as we can.   But the truth is from now on, frost will be an ongoing threat for our annual flowers and produce.  Some days we’ll be picking tomatoes and other days, we’ll be protecting them from frost.

With plenty of ripening time left in the growing season, it’s worth making the effort to protect flowers and veggies awhile longer.

Whether plants survive a frost or borderline freeze is questionable because several factors apply:  the exact temp the thermometer hits in your yard, the type of plants, how well they are protected by buildings and other shelter, and the material you use to cover them.  All of these factors play into a plant’s survival when temps hit around 32 degrees.

Some plants will be hardier than others. Perennial herbs such as oregano and chives will survive frost and overwinter. But tender annual herbs such as basil and cilantro do not like the cold and need protection when there’s the slightest threat of frost.  The same is true for tender annual flowers such as petunias and annual shade plants such as impatiens and shade-loving foliage.

If a light frost catches you unprepared, you can do basic damage control afterward.  Look for wilted leaves as wilting is a sign plants have been nipped by frost.  Prune off the wilted leaves to redirect the plant’s energy into ripening the harvest.

Protecting plants
Be prepared to protect plants from the next frost by covering them up before the temperature dips toward freezing.

  • Plastic will not work for frost protection because it will get as cold as the air temperature and any parts of the plant it touches will be damaged.
  • Instead, use frost/shade protection fabric (from a garden center) or fabric household items.
  • Sheets, blankets and towels are all useful.  They will be effective unless there is moisture.
  • If rain or snow is in the forecast, you can cover the fabric with plastic tarps or trash bags.  With this protection, most plants will be good to about 28 degrees.

When is it time to give in to Mother Nature?  
All veggies with the exception of root crops such as carrots and beets will be lost to a hard freeze.  When there is a freeze warning, it’s time to finish the harvest.

  • Pick beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, herbs
  • Green tomatoes can be brought indoors to ripen.  They will not get sweeter once off the vine, but the color will turn to red.

Use a knife to cut pumpkin and squash stems from the vines, but carry them by the fruit to keep stems from breaking.  Without their stems, the veggies will deteriorate sooner.  Keep them in a cool, dry place indoors.

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