April 20, 2020

On Again, Off Again: Frost Cloth


Can we just talk about the weather for a minute? Hey—don’t roll your eyes! This is a farming blog, after all. Weather factors in to everything!

So, as to be expected in April, we have had some snowstorms. I grumble about those, but they melt off fairly quickly, and here in the desert—any water is good water, usually.

What I hadn’t expected this month was the super low night-time temperatures we’ve been having. I’m talking January-esque temperatures! There have been 2 different nights that we have gotten down to 15 degrees. Cold enough to kill a lot of plants. Several more nights have been in the low 20’s.

Mother Nature makes a rotten business partner! So what can you do to anticipate and plan for her mood swings?

First up—only plant things in the spring that can handle spring weather! All of the plants I’ve got out there right now are cold hardy annuals—they don’t mind a light frost, and laugh at a snowstorm. (Well, I assume they’re laughing on the inside.) Any warm weather lovers like tomatoes or basil are going to take a lot more work to keep alive if planted before nights have warmed up reliably.

Secondly, protect what you’ve got. While my snapdragons do fine with overnight temps in the mid-20’s on up, if it’s going to be colder than that, they need some help! One thing I’ve gotten on board with this year is frost cloth—specifically, Agribon-30. It’s all the white up there in picture, if you didn’t catch that already. Frost cloth keeps your plants a couple of degrees warmer than the forecast. It doesn’t sound like much, but it can be the different between slimy, frost-nipped plants, and healthy happy ones. Believe me.

A few of things to be aware of if you’re using frost cloth:

  1. It lets rain through, but if you get snow on top of it, it can crush your plants. Rain—YES. Snow—NO! (Hey, that’s kind of catchy. Let’s make it into a rap! Or…you can do that on your time. Carry on!) I left it on through a rainy day last week, because the following night was going to get very cold again, but the one day it snowed I was out there pulling it off.
  2. If your daytime temps get above 50 degrees, your little plantlings can get too hot under there, and that also will not be good. Off it comes.
  3. It can be doubled up to provide even more protection, which is what I’ve done on those super cold nights.
  4. It is quite difficult to put on by yourself if there’s any sort of breeze blowing. Just be forewarned.
  5. Don’t waste your time with Agribon-19. It’s as thin as tissue paper and rips very easily, while not providing very much protection for your plants.

I am happy to report that nearly all of my plants survived our super extra cold nights so far this month! Have I been taking frost cloth off and on far more than I ever wanted to? Yes. Have I protected my investment from the wild swings in temperature? Also yes. The extra hassle of putting on and taking off the frost cloth has been worth it.

As a sidenote: I didn’t cover up anything that wintered over and they all also survived. So my parsley, Bells, the perennial cutting beds, bulbs—nope. I figured they’ve already been through a lot worse than this. They can take it!

I would love to get a cold frame at some point to help in these “shoulder seasons.” Another project for another day.

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