Memorial Day may unofficially mark the beginning of summer, but for many gardeners who have been closely checking the evening temperatures throughout the month, it is typically recognized as the launch of the growing season.
New England is relatively well known for its erratic weather, and while it is unlikely to face a frost between now and June, it is New England. For those gardeners who simply cannot wait any longer, here are a few tips for protecting plants from late spring frosts.
- Be diligent about checking the weather forecast. While it may sound obvious, verifying the overnight low can give a great idea of whether new plants could be in trouble. Also consider the particular terrain. If gardens are on a hill or an elevation, they might experience lower temperatures than the forecast suggests. Similarly, if the property is in a sheltered valley, it might not undergo temperatures as low as the forecast indicates.
- If plants could possibly be at risk from the chill, cover them with a special frost fabric that will keep frost from forming on the plants. This protective covering is a very light fabric that won’t crush delicate starts and it is also reusable for many years. Most lawn and garden shops carry this material.
- Small plants can be covered with a paper or plastic cup, a pot, or other available covering options. This should help reduce frost and the damage it could cause.
- If plants are in containers, bring them inside or into a garage where they will be sheltered from the extreme conditions.
Preparing the Garden Beds
Even if vegetables or flowers are not planted this weekend, this is the perfect time to add manure or compost to the garden beds, especially for vegetables. Vegetables pull a great deal of nutrients from the soil, and by not adding compost, the plants may not produce an abundance of its crop. Additionally, the flavor of the vegetables is also dependant on the organic content of the soil, so adding compost or manure will also enhance their flavor. Add the manure or compost to the surface of the soil, then turn it into the top soil layer using a digging fork, shovel, rototiller, or cultivator.
Do not add fertilizers at this preparation period. Adding a fertilizer is premature and the only plants that will benefit at this time are the weeds.
Speaking of weeds, to prevent those pesky in the garden, add salt marsh hay between the intended vegetable rows. Not only will it help to control the growth of weeds, it will also keep from tracking soil from the garden. As an added benefit, that the hay will also turn into valuable compost by the end of the season.
Choosing the Plants
Some crops should be hardy enough to withstand some low temperatures. Peas, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, chard, collards, leeks, pumpkins, squash, potatoes, carrots, and many others can survive the current temperatures just fine. Veggies such as eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, and okra are more sensitive and won’t tolerate the cold weather well. These crops are safer to plant the beginning of June.
Once the plants are in the ground, make sure they have a good drink of water. Not only will water help settle the new plants into their new environment, it will also stimulate new root growth. It is also a good idea to make sure that the plants don’t go bone dry because young plants with limited root structures rely on steady water for optimum growth. Keep a close eye on young plants and give them an extra splash of water, especially on hot days.
Protecting the Plants
Both insects and larger animals can pose an immediate threat to young veggies. Here are some tips to help protect the garden.
Natural animal repellents such as fox urine will help keep woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits and other animals away from the garden.
Planting marigolds and garlic around the perimeter of a garden may deter certain insects and small animals.
Cut worm is a common enemy of many soft-tissued plants. As their name implies, these worms walk along the ground and will “cut” or bore into the stem of plants, killing them. If this becomes a problem, place a tube around the base of the plants. A cost effective way to do this is to cut the bottom of a dixie cup and slide the cup over your plant to protect the base. Since cut worms do not climb, they will avoid the newly protected veggies.
Whether its preparing or planting this weekend, the time is finally here to get those hands dirty and embark on the gratifying process of gardening. It is really not as difficult as many may think and a little effort every day will result in an abundance of fresh vegetables on the grill and in the kitchen this summer!
Information for this article was contributed by Lexington's Wilson Farm.