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Over the Garden Fence

Where gardeners come to find out what's happening out in the yard.

Water and Frost

Posted by Richard Hentschel -

Down the Garden Path

Richard Hentschel, Extension Educator

This past week we have gotten some needed rainfall and a bit of the dreaded frosty weather. It should be expected that weather cold enough for a frost or light freeze has come our way since the typical frost free date for our area is May 5th. There are so many plants in the yard that something out there is going to be impacted by the frosts we get. At a minimum, the very tips or youngest leaves are going to damaged leaving blackened tissue behind as a reminder of the cold. Some plant growth will appear to be wilted and hanging down. If we are lucky this will go away and the plant recovers.

We have not had the killing frosts and freezes that more southern parts of Illinois have experienced. If you have some of the damage in your plantings, take a wait and see approach. Tender leaves and stems that have been blackened and killed can be pruned away, yet waiting to see if the damage goes further is not a bad idea before pruning away affected leaves and stems. If the tips are damaged, those axillary buds will be allowed to break and you will see new growth starting just below the damaged tissue. You may want to wait until that happens to be sure of your pruning cuts.

At the worst, very small seedlings just emerging may have been completely killed. If you had seedlings, they are likely gone for good. Established perennials could be expected to come back as they have additional root reserves. Growth will be delayed since the plants will have to generate new buds first.

The soil has been dry for some time prior to our recent rains, ranging from about ½ inch to over 2 inches. To the benefit of the garden and landscape plants, our earlier drier weather allowed the soil to be worked and that let all of the rain soak into the soil profile. Our spring bulbs need that moisture to grow and put reserves back into the bulb for next spring. The foliage on our spring bulbs also has grown larger than normal with the earlier warmer weather using up stored energy, so a lot of food production will need to take place to ensure next season's spring bloom. Leave the foliage as long as possible this year. Lawns have also stepped up to the warmer weather and have needed to be mowed much earlier too. Grasses have a much smaller reserves available so keeping them actively growing until the lawns would naturally go dormant mid-summer is important. Consider raising the mowing height up a notch to allow more for more food production from the taller leaf blades. This has been covered before but bears repeating, a taller lawn means deeper roots making the grass plant more competitive against weeds, insects and disease. The tall the grass, the more it shades the soil and that also lessens weed seed germination.

Enjoy the bloom show of your flowering shrubs and hang on before planting any of those vegetables that really need both warmer soils and air temperatures. It is not too late for our early cold and cool season vegetables to be planted.

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