4 Ways to Protect Your Plants from Frost
As the summer gardening season ends and the temperature outside drops, some gardeners breathe a sigh of relief that they get to take a break from planting, weeding, and harvesting for a few months. Other people feel a tinge of sadness knowing that they will have to wait for a few months to get started once again.
If you are a die-hard gardener who loves to grow your own food, you are in luck! You can still reap the rewards of harvesting your own vegetables well into late fall as long as you take some extra precautions so that your plants do not freeze to death.
Here are some helpful tips to ensure Jack Frost does not go nipping at your garden this fall!
Cover Your Garden Beds with Frost Cloth
Frost cloth is a woven fabric or plastic sheet covering that is used to protect plants from the elements. It works much like a miniature greenhouse, except you can cover and uncover your plants as needed, making it a highly mobile solution. Frost cloth is made to let in between 5% to 75% sunlight, depending on the exact covering you purchase.
For vegetables, frost cloth with a sunlight percentage of 30% to 50% is ideal. For most other plants frost cloth that lets in 30% to 60% sunlight is considered to be the sweet spot. Frost cloth will protect your plants from icy conditions as the Winter months draw near and it comes in a variety of colors such as white, green, and black so you can test different coverings to see which work best in your garden.
So, how does frost cloth work?
It traps in moisture and heat from the soil that builds up during the day and uses this heat to protect plants from frost at night. In a pinch, you can also use an old bed sheet or blanket, but this is not ideal as a long-term solution. Cover your plants with frost cloth as early in the day as possible, but no later than a couple of hours before sunset on the night frost is expected in your area to be effective.
Frost cloth should not be left on plants for more than a few days as moisture will get stuck inside, which can lead to bad fungus growth and plant disease. Create a hooped low tunnel for your plants and then drape the frost cloth over the top of the structure. Be sure to remove the frost cloth after a few days to let your garden air out.
Salad greens, leeks, carrots, radishes, parsnips, chard, and beets can be grown well into the cold season providing you with a steady harvest of fresh vegetables as long as you use a structure such as a cold frame to grow them in. Kale is very cold and even snow tolerant, so only needs to be protected if your local temperatures do sudden dips that might shock the plant or get down into the teens or below.
A cold frame also works like a miniature greenhouse and it can extend the growing season of many of your cool weather vegetables. Cold frames can be built around an in-ground garden, container gardens, or even raised beds. They are more time consuming to build than covering your plants with frost cloth but are well worth the effort as they act like a permanent cold weather structure.
In addition to protecting plants from frost during the Fall months, cold frames also serve an important purpose in Spring as you can get a jump start on growing and hardening-off your seedlings.
Cold frames create a microclimate of comfort and joy for your plants. These structures are best for low growing cool weather plants that produce food near or directly in the soil. Cold frames protect plants from frost by trapping heat from the soil and the sunshine during the day. For best results, put LED lights or black jugs filled with water in each cold frame to keep the ambient temperature warmer.
A greenhouse is like the Rolls Royce of the plant kingdom when it comes to providing your vegetables with a protected environment throughout all seasons of the year. Greenhouses collect heat during the day and keep this heat inside so that plants stay warm overnight. In bitter-cold climates you will need to provide a heater to keep the greenhouse warm enough both day and night.
One problem to be careful about with greenhouses is that they can trap in too much heat during the summer so it is important to be sure you have a good ventilation system installed in your greenhouse that replaces 100% of the air per minute.
Greenhouses come in a variety of different sizes and can be constructed with many materials such as PVC piping, lumber, or metal. You can purchase a preconstructed greenhouse at a gardening center or get crafty and build one yourself.
Make sure your greenhouse is insulated properly to keep heat inside. For regions that experience really frosty nights and early deep freezes, as previously mentioned, consider putting an electric space heater in your greenhouse to protect your plants and keep them warm. If your greenhouse does not receive a lot of natural sunlight, install grow lights to boost the growing power of your plants.
Bring Gardening Containers Indoors
If space permits and you do not have a way to protect your vegetables outside, consider bringing some of your potted plants indoors for the winter. The best vegetables/herbs to grow inside include cherry tomatoes, chives, basil, rosemary, dill, parsley, salad microgreens, hot peppers, spinach, carrots, and green onions. Keep in mind that most vegetable plants need at least 4-6 hours of direct sunlight each day to grow. The best place to put your plants is right next to the windowsill.
If you have poor indoor lighting, invest in an inexpensive grow light that mimics the rays of natural sunlight. Indoor gardening is fun and can keep your love of gardening alive all year long.
Whether you enjoy a leafy green salad straight from the garden, aromatic fresh herbs, bright and vibrant tomatoes, or the delightful spicy kick that a hot pepper adds to almost any dish, you do not need to give up on all of your gardening efforts just because cooler temperatures settle in. Use these tips to winterize your garden and extend your growing season into late Fall. A well-protected garden ensures that you can still have an abundance of homegrown foods that are nutrient rich and support a healthy diet.