We Are Into Some Frosty Weather

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By Jannie Vaught

We had been unseasonably warm through November and December. We entered winter, but it felt like T-shirt weather. For this gardener, this puts me in a constant weather alert position. As I watched what was happening to the north of us it became very concerning that we may have another “Killer” freeze. We have been preparing all summer and repairing the old plumbing and weatherproofing pipes and faucets, insulated and re-sided our barn, coups, and placed more soil for mass into the hoop house.

Now it’s about the remaining garden plants that are in the ground and raised beds and some houseplants. Let’s look at the temperature and wind that will hurt your plants. Should I water before a frost? If your growing zone has been dry as we have been here in Texas it will help if the plants are watered and not drought-stressed. I have been watering lightly for weeks, the soil 2 inches deep has no moisture and the water slides off the topsoil when the water spray touches it. That’s dry. You need not soak, putting some water into the root system will help. Any trees with leaves such as pears and pomegranate, loquat still need sufficient watering at the drip line.

Definition of frost: Occurs when air temperatures dip below 32*F and ice crystals form on plant leaves. When temperatures get below 32* with cold wind only the most cold-hardy will survive outside. If you have plants in pots bring them under shelter and cover them with frost cloth. All houseplants need to come inside. If you have a green or hoop house by placing a layer of shade cloth over the top with the grow lights on you will find it stays warm up to the 60* you will need to check the inside temperatures with your thermometer that stays inside the structure in the late evening then turn on a small heater if necessary. If needed I use a small self-contained oil heater placed away from any structure or covering so as not to become a hazard. I have added masses amounts of compost and soil since last year the raised beds are 3 feet deep. This amount of thermal mass with a large amount of Vermiculite for air structure and drainage for water and also retention has made the difference in using heat. Coverings need a hoop or something to make an Airgap above the plant. I find that just laying it on top of the rows does not keep them from freezing. I prefer large pieces of burlap and have had success with it directly on top with minimal damage.

I do cover my new fruit trees with frost cloth and will use bailer twine to wrap it in place if the wind is blowing. I do not use plastic unless it is over a high hoop and tucked in tightly around the bottom. Cold air sinks and warm air rises. Remember this when covering. The few remaining garden plants I have by this time are wild onions, garlic, kale, collards, cabbage, and lettuce. I do not cover these and find when they are planted close together they will survive. I have prepared some wildflower areas with light tillage and planted them with wildflower seed mixes. A light leaf cover or some old hay or straw from the coup will keep it in the ground. Any Native flower plants are now cut down and left where they grew so I can let nature release their seeds and give cover for all the creatures that live close or in the soil to have some cover and a safe place to winter-like many bees and other pollinators that live in these areas.

When the season changes and the green starts begin to show I will gather these up and chop them into compost but for now, they remain where nature intended. With a little forethought and some frost planning, you will see a beautiful spring. Cold weather is here time to get as much coverage as possible and with that stack of new Seed catalogs at hand I’m already drawing up fresh growing plans.

Mother Nature is shifting gears, I always remember at this time as a cooperative gardener I am merely the co-pilot!

Growing Green With Jannie