Fall Gardening: Dealing with Late Fall Cold
While heat is the biggest challenge when planting your fall garden, by the end of fall there is the challenge of cold weather. In an average year, the first light frost will usually occur in mid- to late October, although sometimes the first frost occurs sometime in November. A light frost, where the low temperature dips down to 30-32 degrees will not damage fall vegetables. The cold may even improve the color and flavor of the vegetables. Most fall vegetables will tolerate temperatures down to 28 degrees without significant damage. In fact, allowing exposure to below-freezing temperatures will often allow the plants to better adapt to the cold, increasing their hardiness to later cold weather.
On a cold morning before the temperature is back above freezing, your plants may look wilted and permanently damaged. However, by the time the temperature is back above 32 degrees, they will recover and continue growing. It is important not to harvest these fall vegetables until the temperatures are back above 32 degrees and the plants have naturally recovered from the frost.
When low temperatures dip below the mid-to upper 20s, it will be necessary to protect semi-hardy fall vegetables with a light row cover to minimize damage on those vegetables. Some particularly hardy vegetables, such as spinach and kale, will not need extra protection until the low temperature is near 20 degrees.
It is usually best to remove the row covers during the day to allow the sun to warm the soil more efficiently when we are still getting intermittent frosts. As we get later into the year, leaving the row covers on may help create a mini “greenhouse effect” and prolong your growing season once we are regularly dipping into the 20s overnight.