Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011- First Frost?

The First Frost
I don’t think there is a more anticipated specific date in our garden than the date for the first frost or hard freeze. I have thought about it as we sort of went through this in the last week. Up until Friday morning we had not had a frost this year in Iowa City. This is not that unusual. Starting about a week ago the weather predictors said the temperature Friday morning was going to get down to 26 degrees. 26 is not just a dusting of frost that does in the impatients. 26 would toast many plants, both potted and not potted. This was a date that was practically circled on the calendar.

What does this first frost really mean?
At our garden it means that many, many plants have to come in out of the cold. All those pots need to get under some roof or another before they are killed by the cold. (Did you know that frost comes out of the sky, like rain? Frost will appear in open places, but not under trees. This is science.)
Most of the orchids had already come inside. Someone had to come in first. I can tell you that there was a steady progression of plants inside all week. Many just made it to the garage. Weather permitting, they will go back outside this weekend.

Some plants can take a frost. The orchid cactus (I refuse to call them orchid cacti) are pretty tough. I do not worry about them until the temperature gets to about 26 and stays there for a few hours.

One yearly ritual is deciding which plants are literally going to be left out in the cold. I grow these agaves. I bought one ten years ago, which has become 30. Isn’t that how it is sometimes. This year I potted up 20 of them in the last two weeks. Those 20 are now inside. The remaining ten were left in the ground to make it through the freeze….or not.

This frost or freeze also means a fond farewell to certain annuals. The few pepper plants we grow will toast at 31 degrees. Any impatients will be finished I think at 31.9. I also grow castor bean plants. They really do become wonderful this late in the year.

They will not survive much below 32.

Think about it? What could compete with the first frost as a garden event?
We all anticipate the first snow of the year. While this might be the occasion for putting away some tools, we don’t circle the date on the calendar. Well sometimes we do, with the help of the weather channel. It is certainly the occasion to stock up with groceries.
If the snowfall is significant, as it sometimes is right after Thanksgiving, it will mark the actual end to outside yard work. This can be good. But that first heavy snowfall is usually after the first freeze, so mostly the garden is already shut down.

The first thaw is greatly anticipated, but usually happens gradually, and really will only reward you with a few spring flowers.

There are bad weather events for the garden. These mostly are not circled on the calendar. I suppose a hurricane might be a little like the first frost. But I live in the Midwest.

I guess one of the things about the first frost/freeze is that it is sort of predictable. At least you can see it coming, as you find yourself watching 16 different weather broadcasts. This last week, one day the 26 had changed to a 28. Then it is down to 27. Is that number really for Iowa City, or just the TV stations ”viewing area”?

So what happened? Thursday afternoon the prediction was still for a hard freeze. I had broken down and brought out my winter coat. But as we left work at 5:30, leaving a little early to pick up the pot stragglers, it just didn’t feel the way I remember the afternoon of the first freeze feeling. Often there is that cold wind, letting you know that the freeze is coming. Sometimes it rains. That is really bad. For one thing the pot stragglers are heavy.
So I filled the garage full of plants. I moved the heavy orchid cactus to the back garage, and closed the sliding door. Then we waited.
At 5:30am I checked the weather channel for the temperature in Iowa City. It was 32. At 6:30 it was down to 31. I knew by then we were we not going to get much of a frost/ freeze. This time of year we still have leaves ob the big Sycamore in the back yard. It really does provide protection.
So everything was fine. There was frost in the open field across the street. There was frost on the car windshield across the street. There was not frost in the garden. The peppers and the castor beans were standing tall.

I have the new ten day forecast. There is a predicted 31 degrees for this coming Friday. That’s the coldest temperature listed. I have cautiously moved some plants back outside. My sense of panic has receded. The garden continues with glorious sunshine and a few crocuses. (Another post coming soon.)

Did I mention pansies? No. Pansies are tough. They can survive the hard freeze. They will give us color through Thanksgiving. Here are some more pictures.

Enjoy the frost free weather.
Philip Mears


Catherine Woods said...

We've just had snow here in Colorado. So, my flower/vegetable garden is done for sure for the year. It is forecast to warm up a bit in the next week or so, and when it does, I've got a few small soil prep tasks to complete in order to be ready to go next spring. I love your pansies! I'm going to put some in next May!

philip Mears said...

Two years ago we had a big snow in early December. The pansies were going strong at that point. When the snow cover receded in March the pansies were right there with some of the same buds that had been there in December.
I do find that big snow, whenever it comes, to be a relief. There is and will continue to be so many things to be done in the garden. The snow can draw a nice line.
It's good to hear from you.