Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Frost?

With just a week left in the month, March has decided to come back. Temperatures in Toronto dipped just below freezing last night, and it’s expected to go even lower tonight. Are those of you in similar regions worried? I’m not. At least not about my own garden. I’m worried about fruit orchards with trees that have already set flowers and the magnolias that are just on the cusp of opening. And I feel terrible for farmers who have no means to protect acres and acres of early crops.

However, in my own garden I’m not worried about the seeds I have recently sown. Most of them are hardy greens that can take a dip below freezing and in the case of those that aren’t, well, a little loss is not the end of the world. I never sow an entire packet of seed in one go, and I never sow more than I can afford to lose. I am slightly worried about the perennials that have come out of dormancy too early. Tender new growth may suffer the one-two punch of freezing nights and driving, cold winds. Even my urban backyard, which is protected by tall buildings and heat-absorbing materials is suffering from a tunnel effect as the wind drives through the narrow passages between walls.

Fortunately, the soil is still warm and the days are sunny. This seems to be helping to keep the plants warmer at night. I didn’t do anything to protect my plants last night — I even left out the echeverias that had spent the winter indoors — everything was fine this morning.

The warm soil has coaxed up some of the asparagus that I planted last spring. I ate the first one over the weekend! Today I went out and mounded up a little of that warm soil around the spears that remain and have covered them with mulch. I’ll protect some of the out-of-season seedlings that have come up with mulch, cloches, and cloth tonight. I am also thinking of doing the same around some of those perennials I mentioned, namely lavender, and one of my salvias. The rest will have to fend for themselves. If I lose some leaf growth, so be it. I feel fairly confident that I won’t lose any plants and if I do, it won’t be the first time a plant or two does not make it out of the winter. I’ve lost many lavender and thymes over the years to strange winter weather. I only have one or two expensive small trees that I would not like to lose, but I don’t see that happening.

This is the first spring I can remember in which my in-ground perennials have come so far along so early. This is all new learning for me and I’m rather excited by it!

Are you worried?

UPDATE: So far I haven’t lost anything and I haven’t noticed any damage other than a clematis that looked a little weepy. Time will tell if any of the more tender perennials have been damaged, but I doubt it.

Gayla Trail
Gayla is a writer, photographer, and former graphic designer with a background in the Fine Arts, cultural criticism, and ecology. She is the author, photographer, and designer of best-selling books on gardening, cooking, and preserving.

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14 thoughts on “Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Frost?

  1. I’m not worried about the seeds, but I am worried about my asparagus. I started the patch three years ago from seed, so this is the first year for harvesting. I just covered it with straw, so I hope it survives. I was REALLY looking forward to eating asparagus this year :(

  2. Nah, not worried. The ten days of 80 degree temps have the soil nicely warmed. The long range forecast still has us running well above normal despite the 47 degrees of chill those dratted Canadians are giving us today.

    I never plant out so much that I can’t cover if frost comes. Though I have run into a wee bit of a dilemma with what to do with this tropical water lily that just came in the mail.

  3. In a minor panic right now as it’s supposed to drop down to -10oC tonight. With the wind, it can’t be good for the container plants on the balcony. Made little row covers out of clear recycling bags and coat hangers. Hope the stuff that’s sprouted does OK tonight with these.

  4. I don’t have anything out to be worried about. Tell me about asparagus…I really want to grow some…how deep does it need to root/how much room does it need? I don’t know anyone who grows it since my best known gardeners don’t eat it!

  5. Being in Zone 9/10 (US Southwest) frost isn’t a concern this time of year…

    But we had an unseasonably warm winter and have skipped spring (70 degree weather) to go right to mid to upper 80s — which is problematic with a very short growing season before temperatures reach the uppers 90s and 100s and fruit can’t set anymore on many types of plants.

    In the mountains, folks are struggling as weather warms, and then we have record 2 foot snow falls in March. Last spring my friend had to re-plant his small family farm as they lost all the new plants to an unexpected hard frost in mid-May (at about 5,000 ft elevation).

    I find that gardening lately is an even greater guessing game, as the weather seems even less predictable.

    • You must be an urban gardener — most say “pests” or “animals” but only urban gardeners seems to lump them in with humans, who are th worst pests of all!

  6. I wasn’t worried – 80 degree temps in this area in March are record highs and I knew they wouldn’t last. Our frost date is May 15th and I probably won’t put anything in the ground until May because of that. The good thing about the frost out in the country, where I live, is that it should help lower the bug population some.

    I do feel bad for any trees that don’t do well because of the weather.

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