This morning I woke up, got ready, went outside to start my car, and then sat there for ten minutes waiting for the frost to melt off my windshield. In the last couple weeks, this has become a common occurrence, putting a sizeable wrench in my morning routine. Now I wake up earlier, get ready quicker, and anticipate the time I’ll spend watching ice crystals melt off my car windows before I can safely make my way to work. I guess summer really is over….
Frost is a pretty big deal for gardeners and landscape professionals. More than a small inconvenience, it can quickly kill or cause irreparable damage to plants and flowers. Even novice planters are aware of this, but many don’t know exactly how frost works and why it’s so deadly.
Frost occurs when nighttime temperatures begin to dip below freezing. It is often exacerbated by high moisture levels in the air (dry winter mornings = less frost) and, in this region, frosty morning conditions begin to appear around November.
When frost settles in your garden, it hurts your plants by freezing and rupturing their cells. This can cause brittleness and breakage. Frost can also freeze surrounding soil, causing roots to freeze and limiting the water supply available to plants. Deep ground freezes can also hurt irrigation piping. When water left in irrigation lines freezes, it expands, potentially leading to very expensive pipe damage. Needless to say, it’s important to be prepared for the onset of frost.
Predicted frost patterns for the year can usually be found at local nurseries or on weather forecast websites. This information has been invaluable to farmers and landscape professionals for decades, because much of what we do depends on when the first frost is expected to hit. With an idea of when you can expert frost, you can begin planning your garden for the oncoming cold temps.
As you ready for winter, you’ll want to check the hardiness levels of your plants. Some plants do relatively well in cold—and even freezing—temps. Other plants have a very low tolerance for frost, and may die almost immediately. When choosing plants for your garden, keep in mind frost predictions, typical weather patterns, and the cold hardiness of the breeds you’re choosing.
You can also take steps to prepare your soil for the onset of frost. Typically, this means keeping soil well compacted, free of weeds, and moist. The more moisture in the ground, the longer it will take to freeze. Dry soil gives in to frost very quickly, which is why it’s important to keep watering, even as temps get lower and lower. Mulch can be used as an insulator against cold temps, giving your soil a kind of blanket. The mulch may freeze, but the soil underneath will be kept warm.
With these tips in mind, you can keep your garden safe in the transitory period between fall and winter. Check back soon for a more detailed post about protecting plants from freezing temperatures!