Vail Landscape Logic column: Be prepared to protect your plants on nights when temps drop
October 16, 2016
Fall is in the air and frost may soon be on the pumpkin. We're into those glorious crisp and clear days of fall when there could be frost overnight and still many warm days of Indian summer ahead.
If you'd like to enjoy the petunias and let a few more tomatoes ripen on the vine, then be prepared to protect your plants on nights when temps hit the frost range. Monitor the forecast, and beware of those calm, clear nights when there is no cloud cover to hold heat in the soil. Those are the nights to have freeze protection ready for tender plants.
A few frost-hardy plants don't need to be covered:
• Flowering plants that we enjoy in the fall: mums, asters and pansies.
• Hardy vegetables such as winter squash, cabbage and broccoli and root crops like carrots.
• Hardy leafy greens such as kale, chard, spinach and collard greens.
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With many good growing days typically following early frost, it's worth making the effort to protect flowers, veggies and annual herbs. The goal of frost protection is to hold in the heat that the soil has absorbed during the daytime by covering plants. Tucking plants warmly in for the night keeps killing frost at bay. You can do this by using frost/freeze protection blanks from the garden center or household items such as large towels, blankets and sheets.
Caution: What you should not use is plastic items such as plastic tarps. Plastic conducts cold, and plants that touch it will freeze.
Consider Fabric Weight
Since the weight of the fabric can crush plants, it's a good idea to drape fabric over tomato cages or use staking material to support it over plants, if possible. Allow the fabric to reach down to the ground to hold in as much warmth as possible. When covering containers, pull leggy stems underneath the covering.
In the morning, remove fabric so plants can photosynthesize and so that the soil can again heat up during the day. You'll keep tomatoes and peppers ripening and be able to enjoy the flowers maybe a couple of weeks longer before there's a hard, killing freeze.
Prior to a freeze, pick green tomatoes and bring them indoors to ripen. Pumpkins and squash can be held indoors in a cool place to turn color. Cut them off the vine with pruners or a sharp knife, and avoid carrying them by the stem. The weight of the pumpkin or squash can pull the stem off, and that will shorten shelf life.
If herbs haven't been dug up and brought indoors, cut stems and keep them fresh a few more days by placing them in water. Herbs can also be frozen in water in ice cube trays or simply allowed to dry and stored in containers.
Prolong the growing season as long as you can, and enjoy the transition from summer to fall. And be grateful for another growing season, its beauty and, especially, the harvest.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado, of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.