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Protecting Tender Cool Weather Vegetables from Frost

If you are trying to get an early start on your spring garden or trying to extend your garden's harvest until late fall, you can expect cold temperatures or frost to be a problem at some point. Unexpected cold temperatures can wreak havoc or even kill tender garden vegetables. The gardening experts at Southern States know a few things about protecting vegetables from frost.

When should you worry about cold temperatures? A light frost occurs when temperatures drop between 28-32 degrees F. A hard frost occurs when temperatures fall below 28 degrees F. In early spring and fall, it is important to be aware of nighttime temperatures. Don't be caught off guard by frost. In most cases, with the right protection your plants will survive a light frost, but any temperature below 25 degrees F is dangerous to your vegetable plants. When your local weather predicts frost, be ready to take action!

Be aware of which plants can handle a bit of cold weather and plan accordingly. Many of your favorite vegetables can withstand light frost: carrots, peas, cauliflower, celery, lettuce, and beets. Hardy vegetables able to tolerate hard frost include: radishes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, onions, spinach, and turnips. Be extra careful about watching tender cool weather vegetables such as:

  • tomatoes
  • cucumbers
  • corn
  • beans
  • eggplants
  • okra
  • peppers
  • pumpkins
  • watermelon
  • summer squash

Temperature is but one factor affecting plants during a frost. The ground absorbs heat during the day and gives off warmth to plants close to the ground providing natural vegetable frost protection at night. Therefore, taller plants are more susceptible to frost damage and need extra protection. Wind is also a factor. When it blows during cold nights, it quickly sweeps away any warm air near the ground putting plants at risk.

Protecting vegetables from frost is possible with the right tools and know-how. Keep your vegetable garden watered thoroughly to prevent drought. Strong, healthy plants can better tolerate frost conditions. Plus, the moisture in soil absorbs more heat during the day and releases heat slowly during the night providing additional frost protection. Remember to apply fertilizer on schedule why?. Spreading mulch 2 to 3 inches thick around your vegetable plants can also provide some protection from frost.

If temperatures are expected to drop near freezing, protect your tender plants from the cold. To prepare for a cold night, drape sheets or frost blankets over the plants. Use stakes to keep it from touching the plants and make sure that the covering hangs down to the ground. Cover the edges with a small amount of soil, rocks, or even flower pots to keep secure. If you use plastic covering, keep it off the plants because your plants will freeze wherever the plastic touches. If cold weather catches you by surprise, get creative - use an old trellis, wire tomato cages or lawn chairs as stakes, and cover with sheets. Secure the edges with rocks, bricks, or dirt. For best results, cover the plants mid to late afternoon before temperatures start to drop. In the morning, remove any covering to avoid overheating your vegetables and allow the soil to warm up.

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