Late Frost Protection for Vegetables by Byron Chitwood
One of the best frost protections for certain vegetables is to wait until after the last killing frost. For our area, the last average date for a killing frost is March 14. This article is being written on March 15 so we are safe, right? Well not exactly since the average date is an average of many dates which can include some later dates as well as earlier ones. Be prepared to protect some of your young vegetables in case a late frost is predicted. The Meteorologists are getting more accurate at predicting the weather so pay attention to their predictions.
Some crops such as all the Cole plants being, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower can stand a certain amount of below freezing so they probably will not need protection unless a severely low temperature is forecast. Also, onions, spinach, radishes and various greens can stand these lower temperatures without a great deal of damage.
Vegetables that will be killed by a frost are squash, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, tomatoes and all melons. Therefore, wait until the last killing frost to plant beans, corn and vegetables that are planted from seeds. Then, only plant a fraction, about one-third of any one at a time and ten days later, plant another third, etc. until as many have been planted as is required. This way, an oversupply of any one vegetable will not take place and the harvest will be stretched out over thirty extra days.
Potatoes can certainly be nipped by a light frost but will usually send forth more vegetation after frost damage.
Tomatoes, peppers and eggplants can be killed by the lightest of frosts and will need to be replanted if this happens. However, in this area, these vegetables need to be planted as early as possible so that will be at the right stage of their growth when the time comes for them to set blossoms. Blossom set on tomatoes at between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit and will not set very well in hotter temperatures, thus, the need to plant them early to hit this temperature window at the proper time. If a frost is predicted at some time when the tomatoes are small, take precautions to protect them. If they are very small, they can be covered with fruit jars of any one liter soda bottle that has had the top conical portion of the bottle removed. An extra precaution would be to cover the jars or bottles with leaves for insulation. If leaves are not handy, wrap the containers with newspapers and tie securely so that the paper won’t be blown off. If the plants to be protected are too large for the bottles or jars, use five gallon buckets or old ice chests to cover them.
Cover potatoes with a layer of leaves. Some frost damage might still occur but after uncovering the plants, most will have survived.
If some of the vegetable plants have been killed, obtain some new ones and replant. Nobody can be certain of when a frost will occur but if you follow some of these rules, you will be a more successful gardener.