A GROWING CONCERN: Plan ahead to prevent frost worries

WOW, CAN YOU believe it? Already it is October (well okay, it will be Wednesday). And with the advent of mid-autumn and the “Harvest Moon” comes the drastic change in the weather.

With that said, soon we will be welcoming back our old nemesis — Jack Frost.

Some plants are more tolerant of frost than others though.

Woody plants are less affected then succulent plants.

Fruits and flowers may be more sensitive than leaves.

Plants already exposed to cool temperatures will be more resistant.

Within your backyard, you’ll probably find variations on different sides of the house, under trees, on south or north facing slope, or low-lying areas.

Cool air settles at the bottom of slopes because it is heavier than warm air.

Frost pockets will then form in valleys where cool air becomes trapped.

Hilltops are also susceptible to cool temperatures. Hillsides often remain frost-free until a more severe frost occurs.

How to protect plants

Plants always killed by frost include your summer annual flowers and vegetables such as impatiens, coleus, marigolds, tomatoes and peppers.

There’s no point in trying to protect these; simply replace them next spring.

Any tender houseplants that have been growing outdoors need to be brought inside.

Check the plants first for aphids, ants or other pests to make sure you don’t include any uninvited guests.

Some plants love winter, which enable us to have flowers in our garden all year.

Pansies, violas, snapdragons, and ornamental cabbage and kale laugh off frost and provide us with color in the gloomiest months.

Cyclamen is especially bright and rewarding. It’s a bulb that blooms in bright red, white and pink undertones throughout the winter and early spring.

Anti-frost tricks

Here are my three ways of beating frost:

Trick No. 1. When you believe it’s going to freeze, water your garden to saturation.

Make sure you see some puddles.

Moisture in the ground tends to prevent warming of the ground during the day.

It also tends to prevent a large fall in temperatures during the night.

When the dew point is reached, the latent heat given up by saturated soils checks the rate of cooling.

If a hard frost is moving in when the abundant surface moisture freezes, the liberated heat from the water checks the rate of falling air temperatures.

Trick No. 2. Covering is the most effective anti-frost tool for most people.

Covering plants the night before with a sheet, blanket or tarp will trap the warmth from the soil over the plants preventing freezing.

Covering will usually protect plants when temperatures drop into the upper 20s.

Plastic used as a covering usually doesn’t work as well as the other coverings mentioned.

Fortunately, our first few frosts are usually accompanied by several weeks of nice weather and one only has to cover for a couple of days.

Now is the time to prepare the areas you need to cover.

Drive a stake next to your plants, since coverings that lay directly on the plants crush them.

I have seen numerous times where the plant was safe from the frost, but the weight of the dew soaked sheet ruined the plant.

Also, having an air gap around the plant helps trap the heat of the ground and is superb insulation.

Trick No. 3. Sprinkling plants with water is often used as a “morning after” solution when there’s light frost (28- to 30-degrees).

I know it sounds crazy that ice will actually protect the plant from frost damage, but it does work.

When water cools and crystallizes into ice, heat is released which may prevent internal damage before freezing occurs within plant cells.

The time when the internal plant temperature is coldest is in the morning.

If the drop in temperature is not too great (more than a few degrees), soaking your plants to dripping wet — before or at dawn — may protect tender plants that were left uncovered.

Please, as we move into the cold and flu season on top of our own “interesting circumstances”… stay well all!


Andrew May is a freelance writer and ornamental horticulturist who dreams of having Clallam and Jefferson counties nationally recognized as “Flower Peninsula USA.” Send him questions c/o Peninsula Daily News, P.O. Box 1330, Port Angeles, WA 98362, or email [email protected] (subject line: Andrew May).

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