WOW- how early is early

sheltiecheApril 22, 2014

Got my raised beds ready with landscape fabric covered, appear some nice heat under. Am going to get my wall of water and plant tomatoes this weekend. My general planting suggested time is Memorial weekend and I generally plant around May 15. But I was thinking how early is early one can push... Am reading WOW will take it to 16F but one has to count for soil being warm enough too...

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I think you might be pushing it, even with WOW's. I'm in zone 5b and I wouldn't even consider it before the end of May. We're supposed to have temps in the 20's by Friday night. When did you start your seeds? I started March 23rd. Last year I got lured into hardening off early when we had warm weather in early May then it turned cold and windy. So I'm not getting fooled this year. Anyways, it does not look like an early planting season in my neck of the woods.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 4:10PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

WOWs advertise 2 weeks but the 5-6 years years I tried them 2 weeks early was too much and I still lost approx. 1/2 of the plants. Of course it all depends on the weather.

I use low tunnels now rather than WOWs but 7-10 days is the most I'd recommend pushing the envelope. I know some do it sooner but the risk isn't justified in my opinion. This year given the unusual weather most have experienced I'd think it more risky than usual.

But as long as you are prepared to rip out and replace them it is your choice.


    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 6:14PM
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Bummer then. I have done WOW for few years with starting May 1 i.e. 15 days ahead of my planting date and 20 plus days ahead of what folks commonly do. Never lost a plant with WOW.
Yes this weather is a bit unpredictable this year and colder than previous years.
Sharonie, I started my very early ones March 1 and they either go into movable containers as they are dwarfs or go into cold frame. I started rest March 14, it suits my needs but a bit too early for give away for plant swap which I host at Memorial day weekend.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 9:08PM
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Sometimes the weather just breaks from colder nights and you might get by w/o the WOWs; other times you just have enough protection from them. They are better than a bottomless plastic jug or basket which I've seen used around our area. Because of the uncertainty of what to expect I've gone a few steps above what Dave uses; I used to rely on high tunnels, then tried tunnels within tunnels and lately I just fire up the wood stoves in what are now so modified tunnels that other than the plants being in the ground they are basically heated greenhouses.

The point I want to make is that if you don't want to replant then you need to be prepared to protect them through whatever is thrown your way. With over 550 tomato plants in my larger structure, all blooming and many with green fruit forming, I can't afford to let that investment to chance. I have fires going now although the prior 2 nights were warm enough to just rely on the covering protection. So give the WOWs a shot but look to other innovations to offer a bit more season extension and certainly more security.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2014 at 9:18PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I have really pushed my plant out. I have planted some about 2 weeks ago. Zone number don't mean much EXCEPT for the LFD as an indicator
You have to watch for the lows, on long term basis. Highs can be anything from 55F and up. But LOWS? My plants have seen many lows from 38F to 41F. Many gardener believe that under 45F is harmful. But to my experience ( for many years) tomatoes are tougher than most people think. My LOW limit is 38F and I have living and proven records. Anything lower than that I will cover my plants with things like a big pot and buckets inverted over them at night. One thing to consider is that the forecasted low lasts about 60 to 90 minutes, NOT all night long.

To my surprise, under such cool conditions my plants are actually growing, not as rapidly though. I see some are growing branches and a few early ones have flowers. ( My fingers are not crossed yet at this point that those flowers will become fruits. )

I have more to plant out . I have even planted out some pepper recently. They are just hanging in there.

WOW is not going to protect your plant against night lows. No way. Especially if it was a cloudy and overcast day before the night settles in. It can only keep your plant warmer during a cold SUNNY day so that your plant MAY grow slightly faster.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 2:50AM
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You're right Seysonn in the tomato plant hardyness concept but I'd stretch the temps even further. If the temperature durations are very brief the plants can even handle 28*F but you may see some adverse affects. Everything is relative.

One important reason that I prefer to keep nite temps as close to 60*F as I can is the earlier yield. Since the whole purpose of starting plants earlier is to harvest earlier one needs to keep plants aggressively growing if one wants to benefit more than just a few weeks.
One aspect that had not been mentioned in this thread is the law of deminishing gain where when you start plants 3 weeks early with a WOW or other cover but only gain a week of harvest advantage. I just thought it is worth mentioning.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 8:46AM
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Am reading WOW will take it to 16F but one has to count for soil being warm enough too...
On W-o-W (and other methods that rely on latent heat) there are important parameters to consider in their effectiveness. They can protect as advertised as long as the freeze duration is rather brief AND soil has been rather well-warmed under the W-o-W (just another source of latent heat). However, IF there are several cold days that precede a freeze of extended time frame, there is not sufficient latent heat to prevent the temps of the soil inside the W-o-W and the air temps in volume enclosed by W-o-W to get close to ambient values. Air temps much faster and soil temps lagging somewhat. I will probably put out some inside W-o-W around May 10-15 IF extended forecast is suitable. I do this primarily to simply "get something done" and not primarily to gain realistically not more than perhaps 10 days of early first blood of ripes. Also, this does harden them off in a gentle manner (wind as well as lo temp protection).


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 1:06PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I agree wit Reggie.

I have made small cages from rabbit fence and have wrapped them with bubble wrap. It act primarily as a wind barrier. Then it prevents from rapid cooling of soil and has some greenhouse effect during the day. The latent heat stored in the WOW is mostly lost/cooled more from outside than what is gained by the soil. Again, as soon as the heat source becomes absent ( sunshine) it would cool down faster than you think and there will be no heat left in it the following AM, when the low temps set in. I thing, in the mind of gardener it is a psychologic factor, UNLESS and UNTIL one tests two groups of identical plants side by side, one with and other w/out WOW to gain a realistic data , I will not bank on it.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 1:56PM
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What Reggie said,

WOWs are great for folks in the central and southern Plains that get exposed to rapidly fluctuating temperatures, where one or two frosts in the spring are the only impediment to early planting.
For places that have more consistently cool spring weather, especially if also wet or cool during the day, better to wait.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 2:07PM
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My experience in previous years was great with WOW, thus I expanded this year to more of them, as I mentioned I started it 2 weeks prior planting my regular plantings and I do get about 2 weeks earlier yield. For last 10 years we did have one year when we had late damaging storm after May 15. Also I have had consistent results that tomatoes planted before Memorial Day weekend do establish better. Not sure why Memorial day even chosen as start date, except as convenience.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 7:54PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

In order to establish a realistic benefit from WOW, one needs to do 2 or more IDENTICAL plants, one group with and other w/out WOW and then collect data.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 1:53AM
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I have used WOW to get earlier tomatoes for a number of years. I am not talking about a month early, only a couple of weeks at the most. In my experience, there are multiple factors that must be addressed. Here are two: Tomato selection is fundamental. Pick an early small like 4th of July or SunSugar (they do best for me). Regular size or larger typically won't set fruit until the temps are to their liking. The earlies will set in the frost free days of late spring. Second thing is timing. WOW are only about a foot tall when T-P'd, so if your plant outgrows them and you still need the frost protection, it's bye-bye tomato plant.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 11:39AM
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Seysonn, that is about what I did for years, I plant one of each variety into WOW and then later plant same variety without, so yeah, I do have more robust plant and better- earlier yield with WOW, no questions about it in my experience. Here in Chicago, it is really not the frost that is most damaging, it is bouts of really windy decimating storms that usually happen once or twice in May. Granted there is possibility of low temps but near the lake where I garden it is less of a problem. Another thing that most people agree on, that planting bigger plants does not help and tiny seedlings will establish better. It is true and not so true... i.e. bigger plants will routinely give about one week earlier yields . While it might not be much but it counts for short summer areas.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 10:27PM
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