Shielding Plants From Frost

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your garden get frosted over last night? Here on Phinney Ridge in Seattle, I experienced a light frost: slight pockets of it on the grass, and my cold frame (and all the neighbors’ roofs) were covered this morning in white.

Frosty cold frame

The polycarbonate top on my cold frame was white instead of clear this morning.

It glittered brightly but quickly burned off in the morning sun.

How are your plants? A bit of precaution is needed to keep tender vegetables alive.

The best, of course, is to have them planted under season extension tools like a cold frame or a cloche. Here are some Little Gem lettuce starts that are thriving in my Triangle Tunnel:
Lettuce under my Triangle Tunnel

By the time I got out to look at it this morning, the sun had already turned the frost to water droplets on the corrugated polycarbonate on this cold frame.

If you don’t have your plants under a cold frame or a cloche, you can still protect them during this cold weather with floating row cover (FRC).

FRC closeup

Floating row cover is a very thin, spun-bonded (not woven) polyester cloth.

Called garden fleece in England and known here as crop cover or by brand names like Reemay or Frost Protek, it can be laid loosely over plants, even just draped there overnight. For very tender plants, fold it into two layers. Be sure to hold down the edges to keep it from blowing away, or cover the edges with soil as I did for this row crop:

FRC on peas

Floating row cover over a row of peas will protect from frost. It is laid loosely on the bed with the edges tucked under a bit of soil.

Air, water and light can get through the FRC, but it provides enough of a barrier on many crops to keep frost from laying directly on the plants and killing them. Even though it’s called fleece, it doesn’t keep the plants much warmer, so it wouldn’t be enough of a cover to keep lettuce alive if the nighttime temperatures are dropping below 32 degrees F, as they are in many places around Puget Sound right now.

If you don’t have any FRC on hand and you still want to shield your veggies from frost, just carefully cover them with an old sheet or blanket overnight, but be sure to remove that each morning.

Want to know more about our weather patterns, and why we are having this spate of cold, clear weather right now? Check out the excellent explanation of the “modified continental polar” air we’re experiencing now from UW Professor Cliff Mass’ blog.

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