Carol O'Meara, Colorado State University Extension

Carol O’Meara, Colorado State University Extension

LONGMONT – Though the temperatures keep our hopes alive, the dread frosts of October are becoming reality, nipping back plants and killing tender shoots. Winds are shaking leaves from the trees and the landscape is dotted with pockets of gold, crimson, and orange. Fall is finally upon us.

Too bad nobody told the plants in the garden that autumn is here. With the extended heat, crops that were written off as a bust this year are now thriving, shooting out vines, setting pumpkins, and acting as frisky as a June seedling. As a gardener whose emotions are seesawing from relief that the long, hot season is over to a frenzied desire to eke out every last crop, 2018 is making me crazy.

Picking and choosing what plants are protected and what to let go is the only way to approach the upcoming frost with a modicum of sanity.  Sweet potatoes and pumpkins are must-saves, as are the winter squash.  Beans and melons are finished; the thought of saving zucchini is laughable. But the kale, bok choi, lettuce and peas are going strong while carrots and beets are ready for salads.

If you’re planning on getting the last little bit from your vegetables, here’s what you need for frost protection:

Sheets of plastic or cloth

The trick to success is ensuring that the covering does not touch the plant and extends completely to the ground. The warmth of the soil will fill the covering like a tent, keeping temperatures just above freezing.

Ready sheets, blankets or large towels, stacking them close to the garden in the shed or garage for quick access when you rush home. Cloth coverings work for frost, but not in freezing rain or snow; rapidly becoming heavy with moisture and no longer protecting the plant. Plastic is better under wet conditions, but because it conducts the cold, be sure it doesn’t touch the plant.  Remove the coverings each morning to allow the soil to warm again.

Consider building a plastic tunnel from 4-inch wire fencing hooped over rows of vegetables or PVC pipe frames

With sturdy wire and six millimeter thick, UV-resistant plastic, tunnels can extend the life of cool season vegetables.  Tunnels need to be opened during warm days and closed over at night. Find this specialty plastic at local garden centers.

Fill plastic milk jugs with water, cap and leave them in full sun

When a cold snap or hard frost is predicted, nestle them up around tender plants. In combination with a plastic cover, their warmth will release slowly overnight, keeping damage from the plant.

Stack the jugs two or three high for taller plants, taking care to brace the upper level to prevent it from falling and crushing the plant, defeating the purpose of protection. Tear down the jugs during the day, and spread them apart to warm in the sun.

By Carol O’Meara. Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Colorado State University Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, e-mail comeara@bouldercounty.org or visit ext.colostate.edu/boulder.