RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Here’s some advice from Master Gardener Intern Gail Coltes as to how you can protect your gardens from a winter chill in May. It may be difficult to protect your plants from Friday nights chill, since it’s coming in after some even rain. But we can still try on Sunday.
It’s going to be close to a freeze-- hopefully most of us come out OK. But I’ll be doing my best to protect my tomatoes, basil, and peppers!
I posted the tips below on my facebook page, and Gail is watching the comments if you have any questions.
1. Water thoroughly before the cold starts. Water is a fantastic insulator. Plants cells that have taken up water are stronger than those without. Water also transfers the heat of the soil outwards, and can protect against frost forming.
2. Cover your plants! Things that do NOT need covering include: (assuming your temperatures are above 28*) broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, radish, onion, peas, garlic. Things that DO need covers include: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, winter squash, summer squash (zucchini, yellow crookneck, etc), beans, okra, melons.
3. Be creative with your covers. Clear plastic totes make perfect greenhouses. Use bedsheets - they can always go in the wash when the weather breaks. Check your local nurseries for frost cloth. Lowe’s and Home Depot carry 6 mil plastic in the paint department. Use 5 gallon buckets, old flower pots, etc.
4. DO NOT LET PLASTIC TOUCH YOUR PLANTS. Plastic will transfer the cold and injure the plant where it touches the plastic. If using 6 mil plastic, use hoops or stakes to keep it off the plants. (You can cut hula hoops from the dollar store in half and make hoops for row covers. You can also buy thin lengths of PVC and simply push each end into the ground and make a hoop. Then clip your plastic to the hoop.)
5. Propagate your tomatoes. Tomatoes produce suckers in between the stem and a branch (see photo). Each sucker is a brand new tomato plant, and is a clone of that tomato. Snap them off, and either set them in a cup of water or a container of soil. The suckers will form roots in about a week. Then you’ll have backup tomato plants for free in case any of yours don’t survive the cold.
6. If using anything clear or frost cloth, it can stay on your plant as long as your outside temps stay 65* or under. It’s about 10-25* degrees warmer under cover than the outside air depending on the type of cover you’ve used. Your plant cooking is not a good thing. I’ve kept everything covered all day for the last few days as it’s been cool during the day and night. Tomatoes and peppers loathe cold weather - they’re tropical plants. Giving them a temperature boost helps them grow strong and healthy. Exposing them to prolonged periods of cool / cold weather can stunt their growth (*especially* peppers...tomatoes are more forgiving.)
If you’re using flower pots, bed sheets, or buckets remove them after the sun comes up.”
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