Ways to protect tender vegetables from frost/freezing?

anney(Georgia 8)April 12, 2008

Well, Monday night here is predicted to have a temp of 32 degrees, and Tuesday night 33 degrees after weeks and weeks of balmy temperatures. Yesterday it was 82 degrees.

I'm not so worried about my peas, carrots, strawberries, broccoli, onions, & lettuce, but I have some herbs (basil & dill) out in the garden, some gazanias and marigold seedlings growing out front, and 3 tomatoes & 3 peppers in containers on the back deck.

There is much internet advice about how to protect seedlings in the event of unexpected frost or freezing, so of course I'll do everything I can. So far I plan to water the soil around the plants well and cover them with capped 2-liter bottles with the bottoms cut out, plus sheets or towels on top of the bottles when the sun goes down.

What's worked for you that I might consider? Would black plastic garbage bags protect my seedlings in the front? They're too numerous to cover singly but perhaps most in need of protection because of their small size. They're in an area about 2' x 16'.

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Really, anything which creates a dead air space between the plant and the outside air will do it -- the thicker the better, and preferably something which doesn't allow the exchange of air between the dead air space and the outside. If you use plastic, remember that it needs to be elevated above the plants -- anywhere it touches the plant will freeze if frost forms on the plastic, because it doesn't have any insulation value of its own to speak of.

Here in Michigan, because of our wacky climate, we are sort of old pros at frost protection. I personally have a big stash of tarps of various sizes that I keep close to the garden for use in covering. One of my favorite things to cover with are some disposable plastic-backed microfoam slipcover things used to cover furniture while painting that I bought at the hardware store a few years back for really cheap on clearance.

Pretty much anything will work -- I've seen old bedsheets used to cover gardens many, many times. Many of my old blankets and sheets and tablecloths end their lives in the garden covering strawberries, etc. during frosts until they get so ratty they have to go to the trash.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 7:21AM
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Agree about old bed sheets, towels, etc. I haunt yard sales periodically and keep a stash handy from these purchases. Good old newspaper is one of the best. The only problem with that is the tendency to blow around. Plastic can be worse than nothing if it touches the plant.

Don't be surprised if basil doesn't survive. Even temps below 40 will affect it adversely--especially when small & tender. If strawberries are in bud or bloom, I'd cover them.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 9:54AM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

Bring the potted plants iside the house or garage if possible. The coldest temps often occur near dawn, so don't set the pots out in the morning if you are leaving for work early.

Watering well and setting buckets of water among the plants before covering them helps alot. Just don't ask me to explain the physics involved with that :)

If your temps stay at or above the predictions, the plants should do well. If they drop to 28F or lower it s alot harder to get things through.

I agree the basil may be difficult to get through. The leaves will most likely turn dark no matter what you do, but the plant might still be alive and could grow back.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 11:48AM
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Denninmi took the words right out of my mouth, starting with "Here in Michigan..." Heck, up here, the average last frost date is May 26, but the range is so wide that there is really no way to plan. Sure, I may get a frost on June 1st, but that is after 2 Warm, frost-free weeks. Weeks that I won't waste waiting for a maybe-frost.

So, yes, never, ever, throw away an old blanket, sheet towel, tarp, etc. I don't like using those small tomato cages but I have tons of them from a MIL who love to go garage saling. They are great for laying down between plants to hold up the sheet.

And yes, even a sheet is enough protection for a light frost. It isn't the cold that kills the plants. It is the formation of ice crystals on the leaves and stems. A sheet will take on the ice chrystals, leaving your plants safe for another day. Kay.

ps. Basil. In the garden. In APRIL! I am sooooo jealous.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 11:54AM
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can I ask something on this topic? I have rows of new veggies (turnip greens, mustard greens, corn about 1 inch tall, snap beans, a few peppers that accidentally went out early) I used the plastic containers that you see on the racks at the garden center the ones that hold the pots with plants in them...I had enough the last frost scare we had, to put them over the entire row of greens, then I covered that with 2 comforters...but if what you are saying is true, the real goal is simply to keep frost from touching the plants..will these containers alone be enough? what about old plastic pots turned over, (they usually have holes or slots in the bottom for drainage) is this ok or should there be something covering them?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 12:41PM
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anney(Georgia 8)

Thanks, guys!

Okay, you've all convinced me that my basil might not make it even covered. Since they're only about six inches tall, I may just take them out of their row and put them in large styrofoam cups to bring inside. What a pain! But easier than losing them and starting over again. I'll also bring in the things in containers.

Now, how to protect the flower seedlings out front and I'll be all set. Some sort of (unsightly) framework to lay sheets over will probably be what I end up with.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 12:48PM
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albert_135(Sunset 2 or 3)

In the high deserts temperatures are quite unpredictable e.g. Friday morning just before sunrise it was 28° and 12 hours earlier it had been 70°.

I had flowers broadcast in a border by a fence which had four true leaves. Those near large stones did not freeze. Those in open spaces froze dead.

It doesn't take much protection if you have a short period of freezing temperatures.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 1:23PM
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naturegirl_2007 5B SW Michigan(5B SW Michigan)

LOL, seems like the Michigan gardeners know all about frosts!

Anney, if you have chaise lounge lawn chairs you can recline them and set them in among your plants. Let the blankets or whatever drape over them. Easy and quick and I bet yours look very nice...just kinda weird to have them in your flowerbeds and draped with blankets. If you are expecting frosts on successive nights you can leave the chairs in there and just pull off the blankets...I've even seen people keep the covers on during the day if it isn't too warm. If your coverings are large you can use the taller regular lawn chairs, also.

All this talk of frost and covering makes me remember why I'm trying not to rush things this year. But that is sure hard when you get a few nice days.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 1:50PM
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rjinga -- yes, turned over pots work for light protection on smallish numbers of plants. It works like the proverbial hotcap. Just make sure they are good size so there it open space around the plant.

(I've even used them sometimes to protect a newly set plant from wind damage. Rock(s) on top to keep pot from tipping.)

    Bookmark   April 12, 2008 at 9:18PM
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tomakers(SE MA Zone 5/6 or ?)

A note on using newspaper or anything else that may blow around. If you have enough wind to blow the newspaper around you probably will not have any problem with frost. The cold air must settle to form frost and any wind will usually prevent this. Of course, if it gets too cold, NOTHING other than irrigation will save it.
Here we can have frost on our cranberries well into June, and I have personally seen it as late as the 4th of July. Most gardens are well above the elevations that have this problem, but most cranberry bogs are at VERY low evelations (like 25-30 feet above sea level), at least in this area.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 12:48AM
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sinfonian(U8b A2 S5 SeaWA)

When I had my scare, I ran out and bought supplies and errected a plastic-covered PVC hoop cover over one bed (I had planned on building one anyway to extend my growing season into fall). But for small individual seedlings, i just covered them with plastic cups or an old single pane window I use as a coldframe for seeds and young seedlings. It was last second panic but they all came through with flying colors. Hope yours do the same.

Here is a link that might be useful: Sinfonian's garden adventure!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 1:24AM
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Oh, boy, a chance to show my video!

With two cold nights coming up, all the blankets will be busy.

Here is a link that might be useful: Stretching the Spring Season

    Bookmark   April 13, 2008 at 8:27AM
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