Preventing Frost Damage

Steve Massachusetts Zone 5bMarch 23, 2012

Since we have a large number of plants that are leafed out about a month early, the chances of most people experiencing a freeze or frost with vulnerable plants is pretty high. Next week here in MA we have temps of 29 forecast for Monday and Tuesday night. Most of my Hosta are sleeping the way they should, but I do have a few that are starting to unfurl. I know many of you have a large number of fully leafed out plants. So what do you do when faced with a freeze or frost. Last week I was at a talk by Roger Swain (former Victory Garden host) and he addressed this issue. Here's what I got:

1. Bring in those plants that you are able to move. Put them in the garage, on a 3 season porch, or in your basement, but if you can move it, do it.

2. Get out the lawn sprinker (still have that Rainbird, Ken?) and leave it on overnight. Ice releases heat when it freezes.

3. Cover plants. Don't use plastic sheeting. Frost will go right through it. Use newspapers, old bed sheets, quilts, pots, whatever you've got. Don't take it off until the temps are above freezing in the morning. Get your stuff ready now and put it in a place where you can get it easily.

4. Pulling mulch back from around the plant will allow the soil to release heat during the night.

What else have I left out? What will you do if you get a frost/freeze?


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Two years ago, I actually went so far as to stay up all night moving a mobile fire pit around a Japanese Maple with freshly opened leaves just to be sure it survived 24 degrees. (It worked, but I don't recommend it.) I had covered all of my hostas, but what else can you do with a 7' Japanese Maple?

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 6:17PM
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I just use pots up to 30 gallon in size to cover things. If my biggest pots can't cover something that is too big I make a tent over the plant with a sheet and supports to keep the weight of the sheet off of the leaves.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 6:28PM
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hostared(Z5, IL)

We use frost cloth when temps and frost is coming. We also use large pots or baskets and invert them over plants that have leafed out. It's worked for many, many years!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 6:30PM
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Gesila(MI Z5)

Great post.

Does show frost warnings at this time of year?


    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 9:42PM
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I have been watching the US weather radar at the site linked below. They have freeze forecast maps.

Here is a link that might be useful: Intellicast Weather

    Bookmark   March 23, 2012 at 10:16PM
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I've never heard of #4. #2 is true, but not really because ice gives off heat when it freezes (it does, but that small amount of heat is lost quickly to evaporative cooling). When you have liquid water and ice present the ice/water temperature never goes below 32 degrees so wet plant tissue never freezes so long as there is some liquid water in contact with it, even if it is also covered in some ice. The greater heat source is actually coming from the liquid water which is well above freezing all the time.

I have lots of frost blankets ready to go, but luckily have few hostas up and none leafed out. Mid 20s forecast for Monday morning.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 12:17AM
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Will hosta be okay if they're still tightly furled? Nance

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 7:56AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

water comes out of my well at 56 degrees.. it wont freeze at that temp.. and if constant.. would prevent freeze/frost ...

unfortunately.. that is meaningless with a garden spread over 2 acres ... unless i get some jet powered well pump ...

the list left out cardboard boxes from the recycle bin ...

whatever you cover with.. it has to come off.. before the next sun hits... so if you have to go to work early.. there might be a catch 22 of too early to take of the coverings.. but afterwork might be too late ...


    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 8:10AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

Will hosta be okay if they're still tightly furled?

it depends on how cold ...

what basically happens.. is that individual cells form ice crystals.. and burst ...

a light frost ... might just leave a leaf speckled.. as only a few cells burst .. and you will notice it a week or two later.. when those cells turn brown ... and in this case.. only the outer leaves would be affected ...

in a hard frost/freeze .. the entire plant is decimated ... though it can and will releaf ...

once that bud that overwintered ... start elongating.. and pumping water into the cells.. there is the potential for damage ...

we usually play the game somewhere in between ....

if you dont want to worry.. you protect them all, as best you can .. and then satisfy yourself .. that you did the best you could ...

or you take my zen approach.. with full knowledge that mother nature is a witch ... and whatever happens.. happens.. and all i can do about it .. rhymes with witch ...

you have to become you inner farmer.. never happy with what the witch throws at you ... too wet.. too dry.. too cloudy.. too cold.. too hot.. too much drought.. etc ...


    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 8:17AM
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bernd ny zone5

Yes, will show freeze/frost warnings. Monday night will be 24 dgrs here, but only Lancifolia and Albomarginata show pips, and they are expendable. Only leafed out hostas are seedlings in the basement.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 9:22AM
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Pieter zone 7/8 B.C.

This is what frost damage looks like:

Look at the darker areas on the shoot right at the front of the pot, this was taken on the see some more above and just above slightly to the right...


    Bookmark   March 24, 2012 at 11:14PM
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I set it up for to email me the day before if the low is going to be 32 or colder. I already know that tomorrow night might drop to 30. I've got a bunch of cardboard boxes on the front porch ready to go.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 8:10AM
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bernd ny zone5

Make sure you do not cut off leaves which get deformed by frost. I did this two years ago in June/July on one Singing in the Rain, which was frozen severely in May. It did not reflush, and then barely came back last year.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 2:20PM
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Gesila(MI Z5)

Front bed is ready for tonight.

After tax season is over, I am going to sew sheets together so this entire area can be covered quickly.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2012 at 8:02PM
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