Since 1991, Arbor Enterprises, a full-service landscape company, has been specializing in residential landscape design, irrigation, installation, and renovation. The landscape design/build team also has expertise in stone retaining walls, ponds, patios, and walkways. This diversification enables Arbor Enterprises to create amazing landscapes that can be enjoyed for years to come while adding significant value to the home.
Important Frost Facts
A local news station reports that the spring season has been chilly, and frost has been a concern. According to WRAL.com, “A freeze this late in the season is concerning for farmers and delicate plants and vegetation. With temperatures closer to January than April, plants, pets, and pipes should be protected.”
Frost is a thin layer of ice that forms on plants, patios, and windshields as water vapor becomes a solid when exposed to sub-freezing temperatures. Frost damage occurs when moisture in plant cells form into ice crystals, disrupting the flow of fluids and injuring plant tissues.
Local weather records from the National Weather Service reveal the potential for a late-season frost. A “frost date” is the average date of the last light freeze in spring or the first light freeze in fall, and an unexpected dusting of frost can harm people, pets, pipes, and plants. Each winter, on average, the risk of frost is from October 27 through April 9. The earliest frost occurred on October 2, 1947. The latest frost occurred on May 10, 1977.
The different classifications of freeze temperatures are based on their effect on plants.
- Light freeze (29° to 32°F): Tender plants are killed.
- Moderate freeze (25° to 28°F): Most vegetation is widely damaged.
- Severe freeze (24°F and colder): Most garden plants are heavily damaged.
Remember the four “P’s” when a late frost is in the forecast: people, pets, pipes, and plants. People should dress appropriately when the temperature drops below freezing. Grab a hat and coat on the way out the door. The light dusting of frost can cause the porch, steps, and walkway to become slippery. Bring the pets in at night to protect them from the cold. Insulate or re-insulate any exposed outdoor faucets or pipes.
How to Prevent Frost Damage
These tips will help prevent frost damage to a landscape in case of a late-season frost.
Tip #1: Avoid planting too early.
The big box stores roll out their plant inventories in early spring. The plants appear healthy and robust, but this is because they are cultivated in a greenhouse from seed to plant. The moisture, temperature, and light are scientifically controlled to facilitate optimal growth. When the forecast calls for chilly temperatures, the plants are carefully sheltered from the damaging effects of late spring frost.
Tip #2: Make wise plant selections.
While the risk of frost is still high, plant garden crops and landscape plants that can tolerate an occasional unexpected spring chill. Crops like spinach, peas, cabbage, and kale can better withstand a light spring frost.
Start tender or warm-season garden crops like peppers and tomatoes indoors or after April 9 when the threat of frost is significantly reduced. Consult the horticulture team at Arbor Enterprises for recommendations about plant selections, planting dates, and landscape installation.
Tip #3: Watch the weather.
The weatherman can be the homeowner’s best friend. Farmers and backyard gardeners need to keep a vigilant eye on the weather until early May. The latest spring frost occurred on May 10, 1977. Low humidity, a clear night, and minimal or no wind are factors that increase the likelihood of frost if the temperatures slip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Tip #4: Take precautionary measures to protect plants if conditions are right for a frost.
- Move potted plants indoors or inside the garage where temperatures are a few degrees or more above freezing. If the temperature is too warm, plants could go into shock. Inspect the plants for pests that would not be welcome in the living area of a home.
- Cover the plants with a frost blanket made of spunbond material, burlap, an old bedsheet, or plastic sheeting. Any material that traps ground heat or prevents frost from forming on the plants will work. Ornamental and fruit-bearing trees can be covered with a large tarp or sheet anchored to the ground or secured around the base of the tree.
- Cover individual plants with a cloche, upside-down bucket or pot, or a plastic milk jug with the bottom removed. Place the coverings over the plants just before dark and remove them once the sun comes up.
- Water vulnerable plants in the afternoon when the soil temperature is still high. Though it seems counterintuitive, wet or moist soil has an insulating effect. The warm moisture radiates heat upward, which can protect plants from the cold.
- Add a thick layer of mulch around the plants. Straw, leaves, or wood chips will work fine. Be sure to pull the mulch away from the plants once the threat of frost is passed.
The more precautions the homeowner uses, the greater the likelihood the plants will survive the frost with little or no damage.
To set up an appointment for a landscape design/build consultation or for more information about landscape design, installation, and residential and commercial lawn maintenance, contact the office of Arbor Enterprises at (919) 542-6765.