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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Fall Frost

Posted by John Fulton -

For the most part, we dodged the proverbial bullet last week for a killing frost. It seems only the very tender plants were affected, and usually not the complete plant. With impending heavier frost, it is important to take care of a few items. For protection, you could always try the covers over the plants you want to protect. You will need to use something with a little bit of insulation value such as cardboard, blankets, or row covers. The row covers themselves don't have much of an r-value, but the air space between the cover and plant does. Just laying a cheap tarp on your plants will usually result in at least some damage to the top parts of the plant. And if there are windy conditions, it may be about impossible to keep much of anything covered.

If you are ready to have the season conclude, harvest what you can. The main things to harvest prior to a frost or freeze include squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, melons, tomatoes, etc. Virtually everything in the garden will be affected except for frost tolerant crops such as lettuce, spinach, radishes, and the like. The main problem with any of the vining crops is the possibility of the vines rotting back to the vegetable. This in turn means they won't keep well. Unfortunately, vining crops harvested early won't continue to ripen. Green pumpkins tend to stay green. If vines were frosted, harvest any produce you want quickly. Once the vine rots back to the fruit, the fruit will rot quickly.

For tomatoes, you may pick green tomatoes and they will ripen after a period of time. The best way is to pick firm, good quality fruit, and wash well with soapy water. After they are dry, wrap in newspaper or tissue paper and place on a rack or in a cardboard box in a single layer. Check periodically for tomatoes going out of condition, or becoming ripe. To speed things along, you can try putting a tomato in a paper lunch bag with a banana peel. Bananas are high in ethylene, which is the same thing used in a gas form to ripen tomatoes in transport during the winter. Of course, the flavor just isn't the same as a vine-ripened tomato, but tomatoes in the fall or winter are good regardless.

As for flowers, the same principals of protection apply to annuals. Of course if you have hanging baskets or potted plants, you can simply put them in a garage or shed until the danger of frost has passed. The key point is one or two nights of frost, followed by a week or two of good weather, probably justifies some protective measures. A frost every night for two weeks, or a long period of freezing temperatures, probably mean major efforts will produce very little gain.

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