Sunday, September 10, 2006

Your Garden and Frost

By Christina VanGinkel

If you are a bit disappointed this fall with the abundance, or should I say lack of abundance, of the apples on trees that often provide you with plenty of delicious apples for both eating fresh from the tree and baking apples, then a look back at this past spring might provide you with answers.

For example, the area that I happen to live in, in northern Wisconsin, was hit with a late frost, not to be mistaken with a light frost that can hit on almost any morning in the part of the state that I live in throughout the months of spring and into early summer, but a full on heavy, deep freezing frost. Many of the apple trees in our area had already progressed into a full bloom, and with the heavy frost, some, but thankfully not all of, the local apple harvest was affected. Those trees that often provide apples on the early to mid season side, more mid to late summer than early fall, were those most affected. Still, even some of the more traditionally thought of fall apples were also affected.

An orchard by us that has a variety of apple trees, from Ginger gold and Ambrosia, to Jonogold, Cortland, Honey Crisp, and more, lost quite a few apple blossoms, and thus apples, due to the freeze. I heard them comment that some trees that they originally thought heavily damaged were not, and others that should have been fine went on to produce a minimal amount or no apples at all. Others produced fruit that was a bit smaller than what they would normally produce, but considering that, our area also experienced drought conditions early in the growing season, that that may have had a lot to do with this issue was also under discussion.

With just about any type of plant, whether it is a fruit tree, flowering bush, flowers, vegetables, what have you, frost can have an adverse effect. Sometimes the effect is not that noticeable, such as a slightly smaller crop than normal, but other times it is devastating. Of course, the best way to not have to worry about frost damage with smaller plants, such as vegetables and flowering plants, or those in containers, is to cover or move them to a protected area if you even suspect they might be damaged when there is any risk of frost occurring.

Paying attention to the weather reports on when it is safe to plant or move seedlings outdoors is also highly advisable. It is always awful to hear how well so and so was doing with their seedlings, that they finally had conquered the learning curve of growing plants from seeds they harvested the year before, only to find out that they lost the majority of their hard work to a killing frost because they did not pay attention to the weather.

Plants in containers can be moved underneath eaves, into a garage or shed, or into or up against any outbuilding or enclosure with a roof. If just moving the plants against the wall of a building, the roofline should extend out from the building to increase the likelihood that the plants will be protected. This can be especially important if the frost is heavy. Plants can also be brought indoors, but keeping them somewhere, that the difference in temperatures is not too extreme, is of course best. Going from a cool outside to a too warm indoors can cause your plants to dry out quicker than would normally occur if they were left outdoors, so be sure to check them often, and water them well if needed. Too extreme a change in temperatures can also cause a bit of shock to some plants. So keep this in mind if you do end up bringing plants from the cold outdoors to a very warm inside.

For plants that cannot be moved, watering the soil around the plants will help some, but should not be counted on to wholly protect them against the frost. This tactic works better when the frost is of a light nature. Covering plants with pillowcases, sheets, paper bags, etc., is better than just leaving them exposed to the frost. I was always taught to pop a few small holes, think just slightly larger than pin sized, if covering with plastic, to allow the plants to breathe.

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