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Row Cover frost

Coping with that first chill!

Jack Frost nipping at your plants already? Here’s how you can be prepared and know you’ve got things covered when the chill moves in!

Frost! This time of year, it signals the end of a growing season, and can be the bane of a gardener’s existence. When you expect the frost, it’s not too bad since you can prepare for it. Burlap sacks and bedsheets are commonly used for taller crops and flowers, and row covers for your shorter plants. But what about when the weatherman is wrong, and you get a surprise frost? The good news is, the first frosts of a season aren’t typically heavy or harsh, so your more sensitive vegetables and flowers may be able to endure one or two of those light frosts. That will give you a chance to step back and look at how the forecast looked VS what you actually received, and be able to develop a game plan for extending your current season as best you can, as well as plan ahead for future seasons to adjust planting times if necessary.

Row Cover frost
Row covers are commonly used to protect young or small plants from frost damage.

It’s also important to look at how terrain and water sources can impact your weather. Here, my frost hit much earlier than the surrounding areas since I live in a “holler”, or “hollow” which is where a creek runs through a narrow valley between two mountains. This leads us to get much cooler than other areas, even if they’re only a few minutes down the road. On the other hand, you may find your weather stays a little warmer in the early weeks of Fall when you live near a much larger body of water, such as a lake, bay, or the ocean, since they retain the heat of summer a little longer than areas further inland.

Potato frost
Frost can be beautiful, but damaging to sensitive plants like these young potato shoots.

To get a ballpark date for when you should be able to expect frost in your area, you can always use the Old Farmer’s Almanac. On their website, they have a page with a search bar that allows you to plug in your zip code and it will provide you with both your first and last average frost dates. From there, you’ll be able to plan out when it may be best to plant your crops and cold sensitive flowers outside to both avoid your last frost of Winter, and to make sure your growing season will be long enough to get a harvest or bloom from what you plant. When you look at your last average frost date (often abbreviated to LAFD) to plan for protecting your plants late in the season, don’t forget to keep an eye on your 14 day forecast, and take extra precautions if your temperatures look to dip near 0°C (32°F) give or take a few degrees.

Daylily frost
Some plants like this hardy daylily will spring back from a frost with not much issue.

Don’t be afraid to take a few risks and experiment with what works best for you in your area! Never despair over any gardening mishaps or miscalculations on frost dates, since you’ll be learning what to do for years to come. Every day in the garden is a day you and your plants spend growing, and each year you will find your gardens becoming better and better! Stay warm, and happy growing!

Maple leaf frost
yellow petaled flower by elias sorey unsplash

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