One of the best things about gardening is rolling through the seasons. Your garden will change as each one passes to the next. This is exciting but it also means you have to be ready for the challenges that each season brings. For instance, you need to prepare your garden for the first frost of the season to avoid killing your vegetables.
Frost is the thin layer of ice that forms when the air gets cold, and the moisture in the air freezes. While it might look pretty, frost can be tough on plants. Many plants, especially those that we think of as summer plants, can’t survive a good frost. In this article, we will go over the essentials you need to do to get your garden ready for that frost to extend your growing season.
1. Use a structure
The best frost protection is one in which you will be building a structure around the plants. These structures provide a layer of protection between your plants and the frost. Think of them like cozy blankets, keeping your plants warm during the cold autumn nights. Some are as simple as a fabric-covered hoop house while others are full-fledged greenhouses.
Cold frames and hoop houses are usually quite easy to set up. They have a structure that can be covered with a material like plastic to hold in warmth. When you have found out when the first frost date is for your area, get to work building a simple frame and then cover it with either plastic sheets or fabric.
Greenhouses are a bit more of an investment of time and money. However, they provide even more protection and may even allow you to garden throughout the winter. If you do it right, you will get the money back on your investment since it will last years.
2. Prepare the ground
If you don’t plan to harvest into the winter then building a structure may be overkill. What you can do instead is to prepare the ground to extend your harvest by at least a few weeks.
There are techniques you can use to increase the ground temperature that will protect your plants from the cold. Covering your garden beds with black plastic before the first frost can help absorb and retain heat from the sun, keeping your soil warmer for a bit longer.
Mulch also works great at protecting the plants from the cold weather. Add a thick layer of at least a couple of inches to the bed at the base of the plants. If you use dark mulch this will work better since it will absorb the sunlight and stay warmer than lighter-colored mulch.
3. Cover the plants
If you have planned your garden well for the season, you will likely only have a few summer annuals left. Hopefully, toward the end of the summer, you began planting fall hardy vegetables that need little preparation at this stage.
For the others, you should plan to wrap them up for the next few weeks as the weather cools down. There are several ways to cover plants. Some gardeners use cloth like old sheets or burlap, while others might use plastic sheets or special plant covers that wrap around the plant.
Cover your plants in the late afternoon or early evening, before temperatures start to fall. This will help the warmth of the day stay trapped under the covering. When morning comes and it gets warmer, remove the covers to let the plants breathe and get the sunlight they need.
4. Plants that overwinter
Planning ahead toward the end of the summer will allow you to choose plants that can grow right through the winter. Some plants should actually be harvested after the first frost since the cold sweetens them up. Others can be planted in the fall so they are the first ones to sprout up in the spring giving you a head start on the growing season.
Think about root vegetables like carrots and parsnips, leafy greens like kale and collards, and some varieties of onions and garlic. Even fava beans can be planted ahead of the first frost in some hardiness zones so you can start picking them early in the spring.
Don’t be sad about the end of the summer season. When you plan to deal with the first frost, you can keep growing and picking fresh vegetables no matter what.