Cold Snap Coming!


I’ve received notice from our local extension horticulturalist that the next few nights could see our temps dipping into the upper to maybe even mid-thirties (I’ve also noticed this in the weather forecast).

If you have tender plants out in your gardens already, you will want to consider covering them.  Water them well, too, for extra insulation (though it looks like Mother Nature is going to do that for us).

But, if you have tender plants in the garden already, may I remind you it’s the beginning of May?  What are you doing putting your tender plants out already?

Frost-killed tomato image from Garden Web

I’ll admit that perhaps my posts about planting early and often might goad over-excited gardeners to start putting out their heat-loving transplants and direct-seeding their corn and beans, but that’s a mistake: there are plenty of early crops that shrug off early cold snaps–even welcome them–without putting frost-sensitive plants at risk.

There’s little reason to put your tomatoes and peppers and beans and corn at this early date (OK, OK–you want the first tomato, don’t you?), and there’s plenty of reasons not to.

Chief among those reasons is that stressed plants are weak plants, and weak plants attract pests and disease.  Putting a heat-loving and cold-sensitive cucumber or melon or eggplant out in the garden during an early warm spell may seem like an exciting thing to do, but it’s really just telling the flea beetles and cucumber beetles and squash bugs that the appetizer has been served, and there’s sure to be a feast to come.

It tells the early blight and leaf spot spores that there’s a welcome host for them, too.  It’s like putting a child or a puppy out in a cold rain with no protection and expecting them to bounce back with nary a sniffle and be happy about it, too.  Certainly, you’ll be forgiven if you do that to a plant (while the other is abuse), but why would you?

This kind of early gamble also tends to convince novice gardeners that their only recourse is spraying noxious chemicals to save their beleaguered crop in hopes they may get a little produce from their sadly shotgun-holed and spindly eggplant–that organic gardeners must have some sort of special secret about how to keep plants healthy that they don’t know about.

It’s not really a secret–it’s just planting the right crops at the right time.  A sturdy eggplant or pepper transplant put in the ground when the weather is stable and warm will outgrow and out-produce plants that were stressed early on, period.

Of course, if you have measures in place to keep the ground warm and the tender plants protected not just from thirty-five degree nights, but from forty-five or fifty-degree nights–walls of water or hoop house or what-have-you, that changes everything.  Proceed with wild abandon!

Otherwise–we’re starting to get a lovely rain that should keep things moist for a few days.  How about seeding some more lettuce or mesclun mix?  Some spring turnips or another planting of radishes?  Late peas even?  Asian greens?

Hold off on your tomatoes ’til at least mid-month (here in the Southern Paradise of the Dakotas, anyway), and the bounty of luscious fruits you’re imagining will much more likely come to bear.

Now go.  Plant some spinach.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Mary on May 6, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    Thanks for the heads up. I only have things called frost blankets. I think they may also be called row covers, I’m not sure. They lay on the plants and protect them from cold temps? It says that water, sun, and air gets through. I planted a bunch of herbs and things that can handle cooler weather like lettuce and spinach. But I think I’d better cover all of them.

  2. Posted by flyingtomato on May 7, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Yes, I think the frost blankets you’re referring to are floating row covers. I use Agribon 19, which gives a couple degrees of frost protection (it also gives excellent insect protection, and keeps the soil from crusting in heavy rains). That’s the all-purpose row cover–the ones called “frost blankets” are usually a little thicker than this. Your lettuce and spinach will likely be just fine–they can handle the cold. But depending on the herbs, you may want to cover–basil is very frost-tender, so snuggle that up tight! Cilantro and dill seedlings won’t be hurt by a little nip.

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