Protecting Vegetable Gardens From Frost

By Todd Fratzel on Gardening

Protecting Vegetable Plants From Frost

Frost Tents Over Vegetable GardensWe just planted our raised bed vegetable gardens last weekend and tonight there is a chance of a serious frost! I should have known better than to plant our garden before Memorial Day. Here in northern New England it’s never wise to plant your garden before Memorial Day for fear that a hard frost will set it in and burn the plants and ultimately kill them.

Tonight’s forecast is for 28° F which is certainly cold enough for a very deep frost. This is bad news for our tomato and pepper plants that we planted last weekend. After growing up with large vegetable gardens as a kid I know just how to beat this cold blast from Mother Nature.

Cover Vegetable Plants With Plastic

In order to protect your new vegetable plants from the dangers of frost you need to understand how frost works. Frost typically forms on cold clear calm nights. It almost always happens in open areas without cover from trees and structures.

There are several ways of protecting your plants from frost. Some folks like to spray plants with water in the evening before a frost. The theory is the water will freeze on the leaves instead of freezing the cell structure (not sure I’m comfortable with this approach). Probably the most popular method is covering the plants. You can cover the plants with plastic or cloth materials like sheets and burlap. Some say that if you use plastic you may trap too much moisture in the enclosure thus risking even worse frost damage (I’ve never had this problem).

I like to create a tent with the plastic. I installed some wood stakes around our new raised bed gardens to keep the plastic from touching the plants directly. I made sure the enclosure was not completely closed off so plenty of air can move through the “structure”. This method helps keep some of the warmth in from the soil and it keeps the really cold air from forming ice particles on top of the tender new plants. With any luck our plants will now survive the cold night.

How do you protect your plants from frost?

About the author

Todd Fratzel

I'm full time builder for a large construction company in New Hampshire. I run their design-build division that specializes in custom homes, commercial design-build projects and sub-divisions. I'm also a licensed civil and structural engineer with extensive experience in civil and structural design and home construction. My hope is that I can share my experience in the home construction, home improvement and home renovation profession with other builders and home owners. I'm also the author of Tool Box Buzz and Today's Green Construction. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, suggestions or you'd like to inquire about advertising on this site.

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3 Comments

  1. Baba says:

    This is a great solution because the plastic can keep the air inside up to 15 20 degrees warmer than the air outside. I really helps to save these new young plantings.

    • Todd says:

      @ Baba – Well the idea was great…unfortunately temps got down to 24 deg. last night and the tomatoes were damaged badly. Plastic works great for a mild frost but last nights weather was just too cold. Back to the store for more plants! UGH

  2. Teresa says:

    My garden died this summer in San Leon, Texas. Our soil was destroyed in Hurricane Ike. I put in three raised beds.
    We may get snow tomorrow and down to 29 tomorrow night.
    I spent the late afternoon putting plastic over my garden. I had one large piece that
    I covered the middle one, with all my green tomatoes, zucchini and egg plant in the flowering stage, basil going crazy and okra coming in daily, bell peppers all over the place.
    One of the outer beds I covered each plant with its own plastic bag. I raided my grocery bags that I roll into a small ball for use as needed. I don’t think it will freeze enough to stick! I hope!
    My other outside bed is in tires. I started to bag them and realized they were just to big, even for the brawny kitchen bags.
    I covered what I could, then I pulled some tires my husband had cut the rims away that I was saving for Spring. I added tires to cover the plant. Some took four! The Asperagus only took two because I cut it back last month. The Basil on the corner took 5!
    Wish me luck.

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