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Extending the season with frost protection

For most of us, the slow down at the end of summer is a relief. Cooler temperatures make working in the garden more comfortable and rain is more frequent. Shortly after the cool down though, frosts arrive. The first frosts are generally very light and may last for just a night or two before milder weather returns. If you can protect your crops from the cool temperatures, then your garden will continue to be productive for several more weeks.

Extending the season with fall frost protection is slightly different to spring protection. The crops are well established at the end of the year and in warm soil whereas at the start of the growing season the seedlings are planted in much cooler soil and take longer to start growing. By just protecting your crops with a simple cover you can keep them frost free as the temperatures drop to, or just below freezing.

Emergency covers can be provided by towels and clothes from in your cupboard, but for more efficient covering you can use a floating row cover for protection. Just as these covers hold off late spring frosts they protect from early fall frosts too. Typically you only need a degree or two protection for early frosts, and a light cover can provide that.

Place the cover on wire hoops that span the crops rather than directly onto the crops if possible. Anchor the cover with rocks or soil to keep it from blowing away. Keep the cover on the crops at night and remove during the day if temperature warm up. Remove the cover completely when the forecast calls for milder temperatures.

If you have cool weather crops in the garden that can tolerate a few degrees of frost, it is easy to extend these well into the snow months or even all winter if you are in the south. Using a heavier cloth than a floating row cover, your crops will continue to produce until the ground freezes. Put a few straw bales around the outside of the bed to decrease wind and maintain some heat.

For even longer seasons you can use a cold frame. These are sturdier than cloths and you plant your cool weather crops right in the cold frame. With a top that opens, you stop the plants getting too warm, but you also stop wind and keep the whole planting bed above freezing. Again a few straw bales, or banking snow against the frame can make the difference of a few more degrees and keep your garden productive almost all year round.

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Time to inspect window boxes, half barrels, hanging baskets, and other outdoor planters. Make repairs before setting out summer annuals. Check the fastenings on window boxes to be sure they are securely in place. Check the bottoms of all wooden containers for signs of rot. Nail loose metal bands around half-barrel planters to keep them in place. Prior to planting, refill containers with fresh soilless mix and mix in a little slow-acting granular fertilizer.