Flirting with a Late Spring Frost in Pennsylvania

May 13, 2013

May 15th is my unofficial frost free date here in Central Pennsylvania, but I never really expect to see a killing frost that late during spring… well things might turn out differently this year with the possibility of frost in the forecast for tomorrow morning.

That’s just why I never rush setting out frost-tender vegetable transplants until AFTER that target frost-free date. Of course the one time I make an exception to that rule is the season that we are threatened by an unexpectedly late spring frost.

Critical Decision Making in the Early Vegetable Garden

Heirloom TomatoIt wasn’t a case of being caught up with the recent warm weather that led to my predicament, or even trust in the local weather experts that caused me to plant a dozen tomato plants into the garden over a week ago. Rather it was an invite to travel to Little Rock, Arkansas to visit with P Allen Smith at his Moss Mountain Farm for the 2013 Garden 2 Blog event.

With rain in the forecast before I left town I thought to myself… where would my heirloom tomato plants be better off; alone outside in the garden, or alone inside of the house? I opted for the garden with the added assurance that the long term weather forecast looked to be more than sufficient to rule out a late spring frost while I was out of town.

Always Bet on a Late Spring Frost if You like to Gamble

All was well and I returned home to happy tomato plants that had soaked up plenty of rainfall and nice warm temperatures throughout the entire week. The problem is that we are now beyond that extended forecast that I relied upon and the current forecast spreads frost advisories and freeze warnings across the state!

Now you can understand why I don’t rush the growing season when it comes to putting at risk my precious heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants? At least I did hold off on setting out those pepper transplants and eggplants. I also have a measure of security in the form of a backup tomato plant on hand for each of the twelve varieties that were set out into the garden… my “Just in Case” tomatoes.

Making Plans to Prevent and Recover from Frost Damage

Even with the backup plan I don’t want to lose the early start so my plan is to cover all the tomato plants this evening and uncoverFrost Protection them tomorrow morning. I used everything from floating row covers and cold frames, to plastic pots and empty beehive equipment to cover the plants. Meanwhile the peppers and eggplants that were being hardened off in a cold frame will be moved back inside for the night.

A dozen tomato plants isn’t too much to manage in this emergency, but I know there are other gardeners who jumped the gun and have much more at stake. They probably devoted more time and effort to improvise frost protection, or will be sleeping uneasily with frost warnings ringing in their ears!

I still think the best idea is to play it safe and not plant frost tender plants until after your frost-free date has come and is past, but good luck to everyone and the survival of your plants through this late spring frost if it does strike the garden.

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  • That’s really challenging. Fortunately, I’m here in the Pacific region and I enjoy planting in my veggie garden. My only problem right now is the incoming rainy season. Anyway, I hope you’ll have a very productive garden despite the risk of frost damage. I will be visiting your post in a daily basis. Thanks for sharing! 😀

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