Frost Proof Your Garden

One day it’s 72 and sunny and the next morning you wake up and there’s a nip in the air and you can hardly see your neighbor’s house through the morning dewy mist. Winter is upon us and our plants.

What is Frost?

Frost generally occurs after calm and clear nights, where there are few clouds to reflect the warmth back to mother earth. With little wind to disperse the warmer patches the cold air settles to the lowest point, the ground. When frost occurs it disrupts the fluid movements within your plants and thus drying out your plant by depriving it’s tissues of water. This is why the leaves turn brown or black.

Even though we are blessed with a warmer climate than most of the country, we still need to be on the look out for the overnight drops in temperature that can damage our plants.

According to the Farmer’s Almanac our possible first frost could occur around Dec 20th and end Feb 16th.

Frost Hardy Plants

Here are some plants that do well during the frosty months of winter

  • Beets
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Leafy Lettuces
  • Kale
  • Onions
  • Radishes
  • Chards
  • Spinach

Ways to Protect your Plants

If it looks like we are going to have a hard frost there are ways for you to protect your plants from any damage.

  • Cover your plants
    • If you are going to cover your plants, do so before dusk, this will retain any of the day’s warmth still radiating in the garden.
    • Whatever type of cover you use, make sure it extends to the ground, so none of the warm air escapes. You might consider stakes to not only keep the warmth in, but to make sure that the cover is away from the foliage.
    • In the morning wait until the frost has thawed and remove the covers. It is important to remove the cover so the plant does not break dormancy and has a chance to get sunlight and air.
    • You don’t need a bunch of expensive covers, you can use things like:
      • Sticks and Newspaper
      • Cardboard
      • Old Sheets or Towels tented over the plants
      • Milk Jugs with the bottoms cut out
      • An inverted bucket or flower pot
    • Water before the frost
      • It may sound crazy, but watering around plants the night before a frost can actually protect them from freezing. During the night, the wet soil will release moisture into the air, which will raise the temperature and keep plants warmer. When dry soil freezes, it pulls moisture from the root, causing damage. If the soil is moist, it can freeze without harming roots. The exceptions: succulents and tropicals. Leave them dry.
    • Wrap fruit trees or hang lights
      • Fruit trees have a thin layer of bark, which is susceptible to splitting when the temperature drops. An easy way help protect their bark is to wrap the trunk from the lowest limbs to the ground with layer of cloth loosely wrapped. You can also hang lights on citrus trees or tender plants to help give them some extra warmth.
    • Bring potted plants inside or move them
      • You can also bring your potted plants inside for the night to protect them. The roots of potted plants are more apt to have damage as they are not an insulated as the roots in the ground. Although it may not damage the potted plants, the roots can turn black and stunt the plant’s growth. Warm walls, sidewalks or rock walls can also provide a few degrees of protection.

Things to note

  • Younger plants are more delicate and susceptible to drops in temperature
  • The sun warms the soil during the day, and this heat then radiates out into the cooler atmosphere of the night. If your soil is deep, loose, heavy, and fertile, then it will release more moisture into the air. By contrast, thin, sandy, or nutrient-poor soil will not release as much moisture. Additionally, heavily mulched soil will prevent more moisture from releasing into the atmosphere, thus providing less protection on colder nights.
  • If you see frost damage it is not necessary to take any drastic measures. Wait until Spring and see if new growth appears
  • It is not advised to prune frost damaged plants. Oddly enough the damaged leaves and limbs will help trap in heat in the plants canopy. Pruning also may stimulate new growth, which would be more susceptible to future frost damage. You should wait until you see new growth on your plant before pruning the damaged frost parts. This usually occurs in the Spring.

Happy Gardening!
Mary Church

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