Sunday, May 27, 2012

Frost Damage in Spring

A friend complained to me yesterday that she hasn't been able to plant her garden yet because where she lives in Montana it snowed two weeks ago. It reminded me of a recent trip I made to a farm down in Olympia, Washington. When I was there, I noticed some of the tomatoes and squashes had experienced some frost damage.

squash with frost damage

notice the "wet" look of the leaves

Frost damage on lower leaves of tomato plant
Frost will cause damage to the internal cells of the plant's leaves and can be minor- in the case of the tomato, or will kill the plant- in the case of the squash.

So what can you do if you have an unseasonably late frost coming?

First, get some row cover or other protection on the tender plants. These include tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, peppers, and eggplant.

Second, and this may sound weird, water the evening before. Why? Because according to Cornell University: "A moist soil can hold four times more heat than a dry soil. It will also conduct heat to the soil surface faster than a dry soil, aiding in frost prevention. In a study performed years ago, the air temperature above a wet soil was 5 degrees F higher than that above a dry soil and the difference was maintained until 6 a.m. the next morning. Thus, plants should be well watered the evening before a frost."

Third, try to wait to plant your heat lovin' crops until it is safe. See my post on tomatoes here to learn about days to maturity (an important thing to know when choosing varieties that will mature in your climate), and my post about last frost dates here.

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