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It’s officially fall on the calendar and the mornings are starting to feel like autumn. My daughter asked me what I’d do if a freeze or frost was in the forecast. I went straight to the expert and asked my Master Gardener friend, Hillary Swertz, and these were her recommendations:
• Row covers, aka floating row covers. These are lightweight, slightly translucent fabrics that you can throw over your plants. Because they’re so light, they don’t need any additional structures to keep them from crushing your plants and just “float” on the tops. They come in very large sheets, so you can cover a whole row at once.
To use, simply unfurl the roll of fabric over your beds. Use rocks, piled up soil or pins to keep the wind from flinging off your row covers. Depending on where your garden is, you might want to double- or triple-fix your cover to the ground. One of the most frustrating things is trying to save your plant babies and finding your row cover in a tree the next morning. Ask me how I know.
Row covers let in anywhere from 70-80% of sunlight and trap plenty of heat underneath, which is how they protect plants when the temps dip low. However, they shouldn’t be used all day for the same reason. Too much heat can also damage your plants. Tuck your tenders in at night and once the frost has passed in the morning, go ahead and pull the covers back.
• Water. I know it sounds counterproductive. But moist soil can hold up to four times as much heat as dry soil. If you’re expecting a frost in your area, go ahead and give your garden a good soak. Overnight, the ground will release its heat and moisture as it always does, and that can help protect your plants. Make sure you don’t water too heavily, though; waterlogging can damage your plants, too!
• Mulch. Even if freezing temperatures are killing off the tops of your perennials, everything beneath the soil is likely fine. This means root systems continue to grow for trees, shrubs and other woody perennials for weeks after above-ground growth has died back. It also means root vegetable crops like carrots, potatoes and beets should be fine and dandy (even sweeter!) for a while yet. This gives your underground “friends” the extra time they need to grow their roots or sweeten up. Add an insulating layer of mulch on top of them. This could be wood chips, straw, shredded leaves or even store-bought black plastics.
• Fabrics you have around the house. As a last resort, if you hear about a frost too late to buy coverage, you can find random fabrics around your house. Plastics aren’t going to retain heat the same way, so I don’t bother with them. Lightweight quilting fabrics, tea towels, bedsheets and even thin T-shirts could be used in a pinch. One time, I used some kitchen towels to protect my squashes from a light, surprise frost. They continued maturing almost a month after that day!
I hope this helps extend your growing season and you get to enjoy your fresh bounty from your victory garden on your Thanksgiving table. Happy planting!
DeeAnn Rivera is a Spring Hope resident who blogs at VictoryGardenGal.com.