The Q&A Archives: frost prevention

Question: We are expecting a possible frost in our area tonight. I don't have row covers; can I use blankets? The whole purpose is to prevent the plant from getting so cold that the plant's insides don't rupture, right? I have carrot and radish seeds, swiss chard and beet seedlings and seeds, pea plants, spinach seedlings, lima bean seeds (I know--crazy--but they are germinating!), broccoli plants, lettuce, parsley, and cilantro. I can't afford to lose any of them since I sell them to the produce place in town. Which do I need to protect, and can I use a comforter or sheet from my linen closet? Thanks!

Answer: The parsley, pea, spinach, chard, beet, radish and carrot should be fine. If you want to coddle those, or if a hard freeze is predicted, you could toss a light fluffy layer of straw over top of the plants, then pull it aside in the morning. The straw can be used later as mulch or added to the compost pile once all danger of frost is past.

You will definitely need to protect the cilantro and lima beans from frost as they do not tolerate it at all. If there is a hard freeze you may not be able to save them. A commercial frost blanket really would work best but you can improvise with other materials. Cardboard boxes, overturned milk jugs, plant pots, bushel baskets and so on will work on individual plants. To cover a larger area you can use a sheet, tarp, or lightweight blanket as long as it does not crush the plants. If you use a light weight cover and it turns windy, you will need to hold down the edges using rocks or boards or purpose-made pins as sold with the row covers, or sometimes you can shovel a layer of soil on top of the perimeter of the fabric to hold it down.

Put the cover on in the very late afternoon while the soil is still warm from the sun. Take it off in the morning. If it is a plastic cover, get it off pretty early so there is no risk of overheating in the sun.

Good luck with the weather tonight.

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