Jack Frost is lurking – what’s your plan?

The first frost of the season is threatening to strike the Twin Cities tonight.

The low is supposed to be around 35 degrees and frost advisories are out.  Even though it seems early and like fall came rushing in, it’s really right on target.  The average first frost date in this area is September 15th (another date for your garden calendar), and today is the 14th.  Not too far off.

So, what does that mean for gardeners?  It’s almost time to put things to bed as our growing season is about to come to a close.  There may still be some warm, sunny days left in the forecast as well as some warmer nights, but for now it’s best to take precautions or say your good byes.  If you’re new to gardening that means it’s time to either cover or bring your tender plants inside.  Tender?  What’s tender?  Basically any plant that doesn’t like the cold weather is considered tender. Remember warm season and cool season plants discussed earlier in the spring?  The warm season plants are also typically called “tender”.  Tender plants are also typically annuals.  And they are called annuals because they will typically only grow one year in our climate because they are usually a Zone 9 or Zone 10 plant (we’re Zone 4).  Long story short – tender plants/annuals like warm weather and frost is not their friend. One example of a tender plant is basil. If basil gets snapped by frost you will definitely know it!  One day you will have a lush emerald-green plant and the next you’ll have a sad, black and droopy mess dangling on sticks.  Another example would be begonias and impatiens (and other succulents) – one cold night and they will turn limp and mushy.  Lovely!  Tomatoes are another one that need to either be covered or picked.  Even if they are green, pick them and put them in a sunny windowsill.  They will ripen and still taste MUCH better than what you’ll find in the grocery stores.

Whether I bring things in or let them go depends on a few things.  Do I LOVE that plant and want to hang onto it for a while or did it “not quite” make the grade this year?  What’s the forecast?  Is it going to be pretty cool during the upcoming days followed by cold nights (in which case any warm season plants are going to put the brakes on and call it quits any way) or is it just one or two cool days followed by a warmer forecast where they still might “perform” for a while?  OR am I pretty much just “done” for the season? The ratty plants – yep, goners.  The average plants – it depends, if they’re common (petunias, impatiens, etc.) I usually let them go.  However, if it’s a new cultivar or somewhat interesting and can make it as a house plant for the winter, well then, they are welcomed inside!  I thank the rest for the beauty and fruit they offered this year and bid them farewell.

One thing to keep in mind – perennials are pretty tough.  They can handle our weather, which is what allows them to be perennials here.  The majority  do not need any special treatment.  No covers, nothing.

So here’s my plan for tonight… I’ll be grabbing some of my potted herbs and other funky (meaning cool) plants and giving them a home inside; cutting a bunch of basil to make a couple of recipes including pesto to freeze and use through the winter; grabbing the tomatoes, peppers and the like (which will also get gross if nipped by frost); then covering the remaining basil, peppers, etc. with sheets and hoping for the best on the rest.

Good luck – say “Hi!” to Jack if you see him.

Kate

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