Monday, December 2, 2013

Protecting Garden Plants during the Cold Months

The cold weather came early to Northern Florida this year and the prediction is for a cold winter.  The other night, we were carefully watching the temperature fall but the weathermen assured us that there would be neither frost nor freeze at the beaches.  At one o'clock, my husband woke me up and invited me to go outside with him to cover his two tomato plants and my newly planted broccoli.

With flashlights in hand, we stumbled our way to the shed to retrieve the frost blankets that we bought last year.  (See my blog on The Big Frost posted in March.)  We had done too much work in the garden to let the tender plants succumb to frost.  We didn't think there was going to be any frost because there was a breeze.  Still, we covered the plants.

A frost occurs when the temperature falls between 31 - 33 degrees F.  A freeze will occur when the temperature reaches 26 - 31 degrees F.  The freeze is especially damaging if the temperature remains at those degrees for a prolonged period of time.  The frost may also put a hurt on tender plants.

The difference between the temperatures, frost and freeze, depends on where the temperature is taken. If the temperature is taken 5 to 6 feet above the surface and thus it may be colder at the surface.  This means that if the temperature reads 37 - 38 degrees F, you may see frost on the ground.

The most rudimentary type of prevention is to put pine straw or leaves around the plants as mulch.  We are fortunate to have large pine trees in our Park and the needles needs to be raked up from the grass.  A gardeners's work is never done.

The plants do not retain any heat; however, the soil retains the heat, especially after a sunny day.  It helps to give the garden a deep water soak before frost or freeze.  Many times I have put plastic flower pots over the smaller plant to prevent damage from the cold.  I avoid covering plants with plastic and tarps because they will get cold and thus transfer the cold.  Bed sheets are a better choice.

Earlier this fall, I planted broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, and radish.  The cold may "burn" the leaves of these plants but they will survive.  I also sowed carrots, beets, and planted collards they should do fine in colder weather.  The lettuce may survive a cold spell, but I would cover them as well.

We didn't have frost the other night but it is better to play it safe, listen to the weathermen, and when in doubt, cover up.

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