Adjust your usual methods for optimum fall gardening
The last days of cool weather have been a wake-up call that summer is fading and fall is almost here.
Many of us want to hang on to our colorful pots of annuals and the fresh basil as long as we can. But the truth is, from now on frost will be an ongoing threat for our annual flowers and produce. Some days, we’ll be picking tomatoes and other days, we’ll be protecting them from frost.
PROTECT FLOWERS AND VEGGIES
With plenty of ripening time left in the growing season, it’s worth making the effort to protect flowers and veggies awhile longer.
Whether plants survive a frost or borderline freeze is questionable because several factors apply: the exact temperatures the thermometer hits in your yard, the type of plants, how well they are protected by buildings and other shelter, and the material you use to cover them. All of these factors play into a plant’s survival when temperatures hit around 32 degrees.
If a light frost catches you unprepared, you can do basic damage control afterward. Look for wilted leaves, as wilting is a sign plants been nipped by frost. Prune off the wilted leaves to redirect the plant’s energy into ripening the harvest.
Then be prepared to protect plants from the next frost by covering them up before the temperature dips toward freezing. Plastic will not work for frost protection because it will get as cold as the air temperature and any parts of the plant it touches will be damaged.
COVER PLANTS PROPERLY
Instead, use frost/shade protection fabric (from a garden center) or fabric household items. Sheets, blankets and towels are all useful. They will be effective unless there is moisture. If rain or snow is in the forecast, you can cover the fabric with plastic tarps or trash bags. With this protection, most plants will be good to about 28 degrees.
Some plants will be hardier than others. Perennial herbs such as oregano and chives will survive frost and over winter. But tender annual herbs such as basil and cilantro do not like the cold and need protection when there’s the slightest threat of frost. The same is true for tender annual flowers such as petunias and annual shade plants such as impatiens and shade-loving foliage.
Here’s a warming tip: For added frost and freeze protection, place holiday lights underneath the fabric. Be sure to use traditional lights, as LEDs are cool and provide no heat. String lights on tomato cages, garden stakes or place them on top of dry ground underneath cover. The fabric will hold heat from the lights around the plants to protect against frost and also help the soil stay warm to promote ripening.
WHEN TO HARVEST
So when is it time to give in to Mother Nature and harvest it all? All veggies with the exception of root crops such as carrots and beets will be lost to a hard freeze. When there is a freeze warning, it’s time to finish the harvest.
Green tomatoes can be brought indoors to ripen. They will not get sweeter once off the vine, but the color will turn to red. Use a knife to cut pumpkin and squash stems from the vines, but carry them by the fruit to keep stems from breaking. Without their stems, the veggies will deteriorate sooner. Keep them in a cool, dry place indoors.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. Contact them at 970-468-0340.