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Gardening Tips In a Late Cold Snap

by Les Harrison

Sometimes things just get reversed and cause complication. Such seems to be the case with February and March 2018 in Wakulla County.

February was, for the most part, balmy by most standards and had many residents thinking spring had arrived early. Some were tempted to “roll the dice” and play the odds that the distorted pattern of 2017 did not repeat in the new year.

Alas, much like Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown in the classic comic strip Peanuts, it now appears the tantalizing prospects of spring are being jerked away from local gardeners. The weather is throwing a sucker punch at all who made the bet that warm weather was here for the duration.

Given this situation there are still activities in the garden which can prove productive. Remember, cold weather is the time when the gardener can catch up on the task deferred during warm weather.

Examanie

Examine the cool season crops such as mustard and radishes to see if any are bolting. Bolting, the sending up of flower spikes is an indication the plant is preparing for the next generation by producing seed.

Most winter vegetables are annuals, so bolting is the last act before capitulating to the longer days and warmer weather. The taste and quality of vegetables deteriorates to the unusable state when these plants reach their final days.

Protect

If the spring vegetables are in the ground, it is best to be ready to protect them. Warm season vegetables will not tolerate temperature readings below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (or 4 degrees Celsius).

Effective protection can be as simple as a plastic bucket held down with a stone or brick. Just be sure the leaves do not make contact with the plastic, as plastic or medal is very effective at transferring the cold to anything which is in direct contact.

Draping fabric or plastic sheeting over a frame work, like a tomato cage or lattice, will also work effectively. Again, just be sure the material does not contact the plant.

Unless the temperatures return to the 20’s, the radiant heat in the ground should be sufficient to protect the plant until the sun comes up. If the thermometer readings fall below 30 degrees (minus 1 degree Celsius), then a supplemental heat source should be used.

Still, the calendar date of spring is less than two weeks away. March 20, 2018 is the official starting point for warm season gardening.

Cold Snap Protections

Squash plants are already in the UF/IFAS Extension Wakulla County demonstration garden, and blooming. Repurposed garden pots are close at hand to protect these tender plants during the late winter cold snap.
Photo by Les Harrison

Re-purpose and Grow

Tomato, pepper, cucumber and many other seedlings can be started now in containers. Herbs are another garden option which can be started from either seed or cuttings, depending on the species.

All of these should be kept in a relatively warm environment, and with sufficient moisture. Growing containers should have openings so excess moisture can drain off.  Saturated soil promotes fungal disease and plant death.

Seed starting containers can come from a number of sources. Re-purposed egg cartons, cream cheese tubs, and many other discarded packing options are available to the frugal gardener.

A variety of heirloom and lesser known vegetable cultivars will be on sale at the Wakulla Extension Open House and Master Gardener Plant sale on April 7, 2018 for those who want to wait for frost danger to pass. To learn more information on the Plant Sale and Master Gardener Class please click Here. 

One way or the other, warm weather and spring gardening will be here soon.

To learn more about cold protection for vegetables in Wakulla County, or the 2018 UF/IFAS Wakulla Extension Open House and Master Gardener Plant Sale contact the UF/IFAS Wakulla County Extension Office at 850-926-3931 or http://wakulla.ifas.ufl.edu/.

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