Fall is just around the corner.
With autumn comes cooler temperatures and frost.
The first frost doesn’t have to mean the end of the garden. Often a cold spell and frost is followed by warm weather where the plants could once again flourish.
With planning it is possible to protect the garden from the lighter frosts and extending the growing season. Polyspun cloth, cloth, paper, plastic, tarps, and water all have different degrees of insulating qualities.
Polyspun cloth is available at most garden centres.
It is a soft, white fabric that will protect plants from approximately five degrees of frost. This is the same material that is used in the summer as a floating row cover to protect plants from insects.
As during the summer, polyspun cloth can be left on the plants indefinitely. Sunlight and water penetrate the fabric.
Other cloth such as old sheets and blankets also offer frost protection. The fabric will retain moisture and can become heavy and damage plants. On the plus side, the material can be washed and used many times.
Newspaper is a cheap way to insulate plants.
Placing a number of layers of paper over the plants will protect them from a light frost.
The paper should be removed each day to ensure the plants receive sunlight. Paper does not work in wet weather as it becomes soggy and rips. Take care that the paper does not blow away leaving plants exposed and the area full of litter.
Plastic is the main cover used on greenhouses and protects plants from a few degrees of frost.
When covering plants with plastic take care to ensure that the leaves and plastic do not touch or frost will still be a problem.
Plastic can be left in place but care must be taken to ensure that air can circulate around the plants. Take time to remove the plastic and water the plants as needed.
Tarps work to insulate plants from the cold. They, like newspaper, should be put in place in the evening and removed in the morning to ensure that the plants receive sunlight. Exceptions are days when the temperature hovers around freezing.
Plants will not freeze when it is raining and the same is true with plants that are under a sprinkler.
A constant source of water will ensure that the temperature in that area will hover at freezing and not drop below. To work, the sprinkler must be running before the plants freeze and it must continue to run until the temperature rises above freezing.
On the downside, gardens can quickly become saturated from excess moisture.
Trees and other stationary items that are in the way of the sprinkler are likely to be covered with large icicles.
When protecting plants from frost, the complete plant needs protection. This means that covers must enclose the plant and reach the ground on all sides.
Holes in the cover will allow in cold air which can damage the plants.
Baskets and pots are the easiest to protect.
They can be covered or moved inside out of the cold.
In Alberta summer is short. It is possible to extend the life of annual plants and vegetables by providing frost protection.
Use a covering or two that are easily available and extend the season.
Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist and educator living near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at email@example.com