Gardening Report: Protecting gardens & outdoor plants from unexpected cold

Updated: May. 28, 2021 at 4:24 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Fairbanks is currently on course to an unseasonably chilly weekend, which could put an early end to developing gardens.

Raising a garden in the early Alaskan summer can be challenging, as unexpected cold and tumultuous weather can threaten developing plants.

Heidi Rader, University of Alaska Fairbanks’ associate professor of the Cooperative Extension Service, provided tips and input on how to defend developing gardens from unexpected cold.

She started by saying, “Looks like we’re gonna have some cold weather this weekend. I was just looking up average last-frosts in the spring and it’s usually about mid-May. So usually that’s a good bet to plant outside but of course you never know what the weather’s gonna do.”

Many methods to protect gardens from the elements are available. Rader explained, “I call these methods, in general, season extensions. You can have frost cloth, you can have low tunnels, you can have hoop houses, high tunnels, greenhouses - any of those techniques help you protect your plants from things like wind. It’s been quite windy this spring.”

Frost cloth is a light fabric, commonly made of polyester, that can be safely placed over cold-sensitive plants to protect them from low temperatures.

“The nice thing with frost cloth is you can water through it. If you cover it in plastic you’re gonna have to open it up to water,” Rader said.

Some varieties of vegetables and other garden plants require more defenses from the elements than others, according to Rader. “Things like anything in the broccoli family - kale, broccoli, cauliflower - those will actually survive frost. Some things like peas, carrots, beets, they might survive a light frost with a little damage. But then there are things like zucchini or snap beans that are very warm-season crops that even a light frost will severely damage. So try to think of that with your flowers and vegetables - which are hardier, and which you should protect more?”

Following these steps can increase your chances of maintaining a safe and healthy garden throughout the summer.

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