Future frost/freeze?

BrittB(6)October 12, 2011

So Mike Morgan said that next Tuesday and Wednesday will have frost and freeze warnings. My tomatoes are finally taking off and I don't want to loose them. What to do?

I was thinking of maybe just bringing the ones that have fruit on them inside but I would feel bad about potentially having my other ones die. They're all in buckets so I'm just not sure how that type of weather would affect them.

There isn't much I can do for the plants in the ground but hope they make it well enough. Any advice?

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

BrittB, It certainly is worth covering up whatever plants you can, if you have anything to use to cover them up. I keep a pile of old sheets, blankets, sleeping bags, curtains and tablecloths in my garage for just such occasions. A lot depends of what sort of frost you're expecting. For example, in the fall I'll try to cover up and protect plants from an early frost or freezing temps if the cold spell is only going to involve 1 or 2 or 3 nights. However, if the cold is arriving and settling in to stay, I may decide to just let the plants go.

If you use something really heavy like quilts or blankets, be sure they are held up just slightly above the tomato plants if the plants are not caged or staked or the coverings may weigh enough to break the plants. You can use stakes or anything else that will hold the cover above the plants. One year we had a late freeze in spring before I'd caged the few tomato plants I had in the ground, so I put lawn chairs on either side of the plants and draped a heavy blanket over the chairs/plants. The plants did just fine with that little blanket tent over them that night.

You also can use a Reemay type floating row cover designed specifically to cover up plants to protect them from frost damage and freezing temperatures. Row cover material comes in various sizes and the heaviest ones are sometimes referred to as 'frost blankets'. They are sheer to semi-sheer depending on their weight and allow sunlight to reach the plants even if you leave the plants covered up all day. If you are buying row cover, read the package to see how much protection that specific one provides. Some are super-lightweight and meant more to keep insects off the plants and may give only 2 to 4 degrees of protection. Others offer up to 8 degrees of protection. Last year I bought a huge roll of Agri-bon row cover, 500' long by 10' wide, and it saved my entire garden, including corn that was 2 to 3 feet tall, from a couple of late frosts.

I don't know what stores you have access to or if they will have any sort of row cover at this time of the year. Down here where I live, I only see floating row cover in the stores in the late winter and early spring. You can use sheer window curtain panels in the same way.

If you don't have any sort of textile material, you can cover your plants with a heavy duty plastic, but please note that any place the plastic touches the plant foliage, the foliage will freeze if temps are low enough for a freeze, so the plastic works best if suspended a few inches above the plants. One year when a very early freeze/frost threatened near the end of September, I saved a whole bed of tomato plants by building a quick temporary hoop-house type structure, using 1" x 2" lumber for the frame and a roll of 6 mm clear plastic from Home Depot to cover the frame. I had to keep the plants covered up for two or three consecutive cold nights, and then we had another 4 to 6 weeks of nice weather and the tomatoes continued to ripen.

Good luck with the plants. I hope you can get them through the first frosty nights.


    Bookmark   October 15, 2011 at 12:05PM
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BrittB thanks for asking the question! Thats what I was needing to know.

I saved alot of old linens when I cleaned out my closet last spring just for this. Someone told me that a good watering would protect from frost. Does that apply to veggie gardens? How airtight do I need to make the tents? How quick do I need to get them out of the tent once the sun is up?

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 12:32AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I like to water well the day before the frost is expected. This gives the roots of the plants time to soak up the water. Wet or damp roots do not freeze as easily as dry or dehydrated roots. That's true for trees, shrubs and all plants, including veggies, so it pays to water occasionally in dry winters too, whether you're watering cold-hardy veggies like spinach and turnips or your landscape. Keeping roots moist but not waterlogged helps plants cope with cold temps.

The tents you use to cover up plants don't have to be airtight, but work best if they reach all the way down to the ground. The frost blankets I use are not airtight. They merely keep the frost off the leaves and hold in just enough heat and warmth to prevent freeze damage.

In the morning, I try to uncover plants shortly after sunrise, but only after any existing frost has melted. How important this is varies depending on what sort of covers you have over the plants. With any breathable textile, there is less risk of plants overheating and on some days I've left the plants covered all day if we were having a frost night followed by a warm (but not hot) day with another frosty night. If you use plastic sheeting or buckets, you can get significant heat buildup in only a a few hours of sunlight (less so if it stays cloudy all day) so uncovering as soon as possible within reason is better. With plastic, I try to get it off the plants before the air temps exceed about 45-50 degrees if the sunlight is bright. You can raise cold-tolerant plants all winter long to some degree under low tunnels made of hoop frames covered with plastic, but in our climate it is important to open the ends of your tunnels on warm days to prevent heat and humidity build up that can lead to diseases. The same is true with covering plants in autumn for freeze protection---you still need to give the plants good air flow during the warm parts of the days.


    Bookmark   October 17, 2011 at 10:26AM
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