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What to do in a frost warning?

 
AdAstra Shepard
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Location: Eastern KS, USA
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I am the very beginning-est of beginners, so this may be a stupid question...
which plants need to be protected when there's a frost warning? I very carefully waited 'til last weekend, April 19 was the avg. last frost date in our area, to plant some new trees, bushes, strawberries, grapevines, a few annuals like lettuce and cauliflower, etc. And tonight there's a frost warning, the weather people are saying "cover up your plants."
Is that necessary with stuff that's supposed to be cold-hardy and perennial? Would I need to protect them just because they're babies now, but not later? I'm just not sure how that works. Also, I'm not sure of the mechanics. I have scraps of old rags & towels & some burlap pieces, and plenty of old plastic bags, would those be appropriate? Do you cover the whole plant, or just the root/base?

Part of me is tempted to take a Darwinist approach. Arnold voice: "You girlie plants do not whine to me about the cold! You are in my garden now! If you do not grow tough and strong, you do not deserve to be here!" But another part of me says "I paid good money for these plants, I need to protect my investment."

What do y'all think? Any advice would be appreciated.
 
Judith Browning
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We are having late...for here...drops in to the thirties. I covered my peach trees because they were blooming and a freeze will hurt the fruit set. If it is a frost not freeze warning your young trees should be OK I think. Are they leafed out yet? Lettuce and all cole crops and strawberries will be fine in a light frost and we have had all of those winter over through freezes and snow. We use very light weight covers when we cover trees but sometimes I worry they will do more damage in the wind. Just a bucket or a basket or a cardboard box is enough for small things or just some leaves or some sort of light weight mulch. My fig is under cover still and it badly wants out...I peaked and it has little leaves but we have another night into the thirties tomorrow. I am the most concerned for fruit trees at bloom and very young tender tree leaves.
 
Miles Flansburg
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AdAstra, that Arnold thing made me laugh out loud!
I guess the way I look at it is you have to keep the frost ,itself, from forming on the plants. So as Judith says ,almost anything you have will work to cover things up. If I need to, I will cover everything with old sheets or plastic. If the trees have not bloomed they should be OK. And some things are more hardy than other things. I thnk of it by zones. If something is a low zone plant ( zone 2 or 3 say) it should be able to handle the cold better than higher zone stuff. My strawberries have been green almost all winter so they are pretty tough. They will die back each time it gets cold and then just start growing again. So even if some of your stuff gets bit and looks dead, give it a week or two to see if it comes back up again.
 
AdAstra Shepard
Posts: 10
Location: Eastern KS, USA
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Thank you so much! It's a freeze warning, not just a frost warning, I guess... temps supposed to get down into the 20s. We're getting sleet and snow right now. But none of my little trees have leaves yet, though the bushes do. So the trees should be OK? I still have lots of cardboard moving boxes that would be just the right size to cover a little bush; that's a great suggestion, quick & easy to do and it won't get caught on any branches or thorns. Good to know the other plants should be fine.

Next year I'll listen to my dogwood tree... I vaguely remember one of my grandparents saying you don't plant your garden 'til the dogwood trees bloom, because the dogwoods know when it's safe. Last year my dogwood bloomed in late March, this year it still hasn't bloomed yet. So I guess it really does know when we'll have a late Spring!

Thanks again for the help. I love these forums!
 
Miles Flansburg
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OK, so if you get snow then sheets or plastic will actually get heavy and crush things unless they are supported. Boxes and baskets sound like the way to go.
And yes if we learn to listen and watch the plants we could learn a lot.
 
Judith Browning
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I am not comfortable telling you it would be OK...twenties? sleet? snow? after a warm up? I think if I had enough stuff to cover with I would prioritize and cover away...I think the trees that are not leafed out yet should be ok...but if your lettuces are from a greenhouse they might not be cold hardy yet. I guess I think there are too many variables and I don't want to endanger someone elses plants. I just moved my pots of tomatoes back inside. It wont hurt to cover too much...just do your best and don't worry about it...most of us have replaced plants and trees plenty...thats just nature for you. good luck.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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I am hoping the rain will protect the buds, as there is way too much to cover for us.
 
AdAstra Shepard
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Location: Eastern KS, USA
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Ok, thanks for the clarification. Luckily it's a pretty small backyard garden (the entire lot, house included, is less than 1/5 acre) and I have only planted bits and pieces so far, so covering everything shouldn't be a problem. I just didn't want to be silly and run around covering stuff if it was unnecessary (I'm naturally lazy, which is why I like permaculture in the first place).
 
John Polk
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For the trees, the big question is "Are they still dormant?"

If they are hardy to your zone, and they are still dormant, there is no worry.
However, if they have new growth this spring (buds, nodes, blossoms...), they have broken dormancy, and could be damaged by a late frost.

Another good, light weight covering is old bubble wrap.
Never throw that stuff away (or let the 'kid' inside you pop all of the bubbles).

 
solomon martin
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for a small backyard garden, and if you have electricity, an oscillating fan could work well to keep the air moving and avoid frost settling. this is obviously a technofix that is in someways anathema to the ideals of permaculture, but if it means saving your veggies...


for harder frosts and particularly in the case of fruit trees, I have heard that spraying the plants with water in the evening also can help, encasing the leaves/buds in water and letting the heat produce by the plants keep them just barely insulated.

Ive used sheet plastic to good effect before, late/early frosts occur pretty regular here in nw mt, I usually will cover my tomatoes and peppers and eggplant to gain an extra week or so of ripening, all my other crops (brassicas, carrots, peas, alliums, taters) can usually withstand what the weather throws at them. For early frosts, let darwinian principles have their way, and plan on replanting as necessary, having a frost die off early just gives your garden a chance to "mosaic" and gives you a harvest schedule that may be more convenient towards fall.
 
Judith Browning
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Adastra, I am wondering how your plants survived the cold? I find myself with the same problem...again...for the next three nights we are expecting lows in the thirties and lower...into the teens with the wind chill 'they' say, and even snow someplaces...not a typical spring. We have peaches, cherries, figs and srawberries all with young fruit and I just cant bring myself to give up on them so I am out in the rain in what is now almost seventy degrees...covering full sized fruit trees today...hopefully a 'fruitful' endeavor.
 
kai weeks
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Location: The forest, Sweden. Zone 7. Sandy, acidic soils.
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Hi =) Here's me replying to an ancient thread!

An option is actually to spray your plants with water. When water freezes, it releases heat (a little counterintuitive, I know, but that's why you have to put water in a cold place to freeze it - you have to take away heat). So, if your plants have a thin layer of water on them that freezes, it actually helps keep them warmer. Additionally, the layer of ice, being a good insulator, will then help keep the plant warmer through the cold spell.

-answered Jan 2 '11 at 18:08 by Mitchell at Physics.stackexchange





 
Mike Turner
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Location: Upstate SC
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Water releases 80 calories of heat per gram of water as it changes from a liquid to a solid (heat of fusion). As long as there is some liquid water present on the surface of the plant that is changing into ice there is heat being released and the temperature of the ice covering won't drop below freezing until all of the water has converted into a solid. So the temperature inside the mass of ice covering your plant won't drop below freezing as long as liquid water is being sprayed on the plant.
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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Let's pull this thread out of the archives and brush the frost off it.
Night before last we had a heavy frost with a low of 24. I've surveyed the damage and IT AIN'T PURDY. We have too much to think about covering. I really hate that the pears, apples and peaches were all in bloom. Well maybe not the peaches cause those for some reason are the worst I've tasted. Anyway, those and lilacs, forsythia and snowball bushes but real sad about the azaleas. I thought they'd be ok since the blooms were still so tight. Mother Nature has kicked my butt again. Now they have a low of 27 forcasted for night after next. Sigh.
We recently hit a high of 80 and I've got a sunburned nose. Now freezing again. Spring?
 
John Wolfram
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Location: Lafayette, Indiana
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Karen Layne wrote:Night before last we had a heavy frost with a low of 24. I've surveyed the damage and IT AIN'T PURDY. We have too much to think about covering. I really hate that the pears, apples and peaches were all in bloom...Now they have a low of 27 forcasted for night after next. Sigh.We recently hit a high of 80 and I've got a sunburned nose. Now freezing again. Spring?

Here in Indiana, my apricots, plums, and peaches were all in bloom with the temps getting into the 70s in March. With the April lows getting to 24 so far, and 22 expected, most of stone fruits are likely to be a complete loss this year.

My general plan for a dealing with a late frost/freeze is to pour myself an nice glass of beer and say "Fuck it, hopefully next year will be better, but at least this year the X, Y, Z trees are still looking good for this year."
 
Karen Donnachaidh
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My garden motto: "Live tough or die". And a wink to Old Mother Nature as i pop a cork on the cheap champagne
 
Too many men are afraid of being fools - Henry Ford. Foolish tiny ad:
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