Frost and Freeze

According to the forecast, we’re supposed to get our first frost/freeze in the Wichita area tonight. I’m seeing 30 degrees as the projected low. Of course, I’m always skeptical of that first freeze until it actually happens. However, we have to assume it will happen. So, what do you do about your garden vegetables?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. Given the projected highs and lows for the next couple weeks, I don’t really see any point in trying to keep warm season vegetables/herbs going. My choice would be to pick whatever I can and let the rest go. It isn’t going to be warm enough in the next week to push many more of those tomatoes and peppers to mature and ripen.
  2. If you really want to try to keep warm weather loving plants alive, you will want to cover them. You might also consider pulling back any organic mulch (straw, grass, leaves) from around the plants so that the sun can keep that soil as warm as possible going into the cold nights.
  3. Cool weather loving vegetables and herbs (lettuce, spinach, root vegetables, thyme, sage, strawberries, broccoli, etc) shouldn’t need to be covered with this projected low temperature. They may sustain very minimal damage on the edges of older leaves, but they won’t be killed, and you will have little loss in edible value. Many of these vegetables get sweeter after a couple freezes. If you cover these vegetables tonight, be aware that they will need to be uncovered, because they will get too warm under a row cover most days yet.

This is some of the lettuce we had last year that was under a row cover when it got much colder outside. The inside temperature when this picture was taken was probably between 28 and 32 degrees, exactly the range we’re expected to be in tonight. You can see there is some obvious wilting and you might think that this lettuce is damaged and done for. It isn’t! This picture was taken when the temperature was still below freezing. As it warms up and the lettuce thaws, the water starts flowing again and all will be well. a

Because this is our first freeze and the weather that some of our cool season veggies have been exposed to was pretty hot yet, I would expect that some of the older leaves may be more damaged by the cold. More recent growth and any new growth after tonight will be much thicker and more cold tolerant as the plants adjust to fall weather.

In my mind, a freeze tonight is the END of what was an atrocious summer growing season, and I for one am more than ready to move on!

About Rebecca

I'm a Horticulture Educator with Sedgwick County Extension, a branch of K-State Research and Extension, located in Wichita, KS. I teach about fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Posted on October 19, 2011, in Around the Garden and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Most years, I’d give up on the tomatoes before now. This is not most years.

    I put the JetStars in the garage… they’re supposed to be in SmartPots in case I put them out to early, but this year the SP’s let me move them into such shade as there was, and now they’ve let me put them in front of a wall of south-facing windows. Because they’re loaded with marble-sized tomatoes DANGIT.

    I admit I wrapped the big in-ground tomato too, but that was just because I had an extra roll of row cover. Really. I’m not in denial.

    (But the cabbages and broccolis and all the real fall crops are very, very happy.)

  2. I completely understand the sentiment…and you know I’m all about season extension, in most cases. I’m just OVER IT this year. I hope you get some tomatoes!

  3. Yeah, if it hadn’t been that I’d nursed these cotton-pickin’ critters through so much and still haven’t gotten anything, I’d let them go.

    The big in-ground tomato that I wrapped in an entire roll of row cover is mostly happy. The outer 6″ or so against the blanket got cold enough to wilt, but the main core is fine. I bravely left tomatoes up to about 2 1/2″ on the vine and they don’t seem to have frozen, though a little one on the periphery did.

    The smaller in-ground I tossed a leaf bag over, and it died the night before the freeze. That, um, may have been partly because I didn’t get out to take it *off* until noon, though.

    The random volunteer tomato that I ignored died, of course.

    The JetStars in the SmartPots in the garage are happy, though they’d like to know when I’m going to water them, please.

    None of this should be happening at the same time fall cabbages are heading up, is all I have to say.

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