Gardening: Frost/Plant care

October 7, 2009 TOPIC: AVERAGE FIRST FROST DATE - We talk about the Spring "Frost Free" date, but we have not given the Average First Frost date as much recognition. Usually by the time it arrives, we are all ready for the first frost of the season. (Along with pumpkins, trick-or-treating, hot cider and caramel apples.) The average date is October 15 here in the Chicago area. Whenever it comes earlier, we all try to save our annuals and perennials for just a little longer. Here are some of the insiders' tips:

1. If you have containers - the easiest thing is to move them into the garage overnight, preventing the cold temperatures and frost from settling on the flowers and foliage to cause the water in the cells to freeze, damaging them and turning them into mush.

2. For plants in the ground - a cover works well to protect the leaves and flowers - the secret is to trap the warm air from the ground around the plant. The soil temperature is still in the upper 50's, so covering the plant traps the air that is warmed by the soil around the leaves and flowers preventing the frost damage - Use sheets or blankets and spread them wide over the surface of the ground. Anchor the corners with stones or bricks, use plants stakes or cut branches to prop the sheet above the top the plant. OR, cover the plant with a large cardboard box - open the top flaps and turn the box over to cover the plant - leave the flaps open and use stones or bricks to hold the box down by the flaps. Remove the next morning.

3. A brand new product, FreezePruf by Liquid Fence, uses a biodegradable, eco-safe, easy-to-use spray. Made from Polyethylene glycol and glycerine, when sprayed on all surfaces of the plant, it protects the foliage and flowers from ice crystal damage. It is like Anti-freeze for plants. The protection lasts up to 6 weeks. It has an orbital sprayer that works upside down, so it is easy to get under-leaf protection. A 32 oz. bottle sells for $15.99. This is a brand new scientific break-through.


1. ADD FALL BEAUTY TO YOUR GARDEN - Cool weather tolerant plants including pansies, many hardy perennials that bloom late like: Asters, Mums, Leadwort and colorful Heuchera: and cold weather vegetables like cabbage and kale - pumpkins and gourds - field corn and millet - straw. The fun with all these is that they last into the early winter period with color and longevity.

2. PLAN TO WINTERIZE YOUR GARDEN - This is the best time to prepare the garden (especially roses) to survive the sometimes brutal winter weather. The purpose of winterizing is to keep the plants dormant (or cold) once they have gone to sleep for the season. It is not to help keep the plants 'warm'. The other problem that needs to be controlled is the damage caused by animals during the winter season when food sources get scarce.

3. IT IS TIME TO PLANT BULBS - remember to plant in groups or bouquets rather than as soldiers all lined up standing guard. People are happier if they plant at least 100 bulbs or more in their gardens. One bouquet is 10 bulbs in the bottom of the hole and 10 bulbs in the middle of the planting hole - 20 total. Only 5 bouquets (that means only digging 5 holes!!!) equals 100 flowering bulbs in your garden next spring! A little bit of work now will give you such a huge reward next spring when your winter tired soul needs it the most.

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