FREEZE ALERT: Tips For Your Gardens And Plants With Freeze On The Way!

By Larry Caplan, Purdue Horticulturist

Evansville (Local Sources) – As I write this, it is a gorgeous 72 degrees F.  Which would be very nice for April or May, but disturbing for early March.  Within the next 36  hours (by Friday night), the temperature is set to drop to 26 degrees; and by  Saturday night, down to 23 degrees, according to the National Weather Service page for Evansville.

Because of the prolonged and abnormally high temperatures of February, many of our landscape and garden plants have come out of dormancy and begun to grow.  This Purdue news article that I contributed to that came out earlier this week, and explains how this warmup may affect ornamentals.

No sooner did that article come out, then we received the freeze alert I mentioned  above.  This Purdue news release gives some information on monitoring your landscape plants during this freeze event  this weekend.  This article references a Michigan State news release that discusses what the effects of this weekend’s freeze may be on our fruit crops.

Here’s my take on what may happen with this weekend’s freeze, and what we can and  should do about it:

*         Flower blooms that are already open are going to be frozen and killed.  Expect damage on daffodils, quince, forsythia, and possibly on magnolias.  If we’re  lucky, it may also damage the blooms on the ornamental (Callery) pears, which should reduce the fruit load.

*         The predicted snow, which should fall Saturday and into Saturday night, may act as a beneficial “natural mulch” that will help protect emerging spring bulbs and strawberries from severe damage.  That depends on how much snow we get.  But snow itself is not necessarily a bad thing…it’s the cold temperatures we need to worry about.

*         Bulbs and perennials may be frozen to the ground.  However, considering how warm the soil is, the bulbs and roots themselves are not in danger of dying, so even if we lose a few leaves and the present blooms, the perennials should bounce back from this, none the worse from wear.

*         Peaches are well along the way to blooming; I’ve reports that they are in “first pink” or even past that, depending on where you are in the tri-state.  If you don’t know what that means, check out this pictorial article on critical spring temperatures for fruit.

According to this publication, peaches at first pink can experience 10% flower kill at 25 degrees, and 90% flower kill at 15 degrees.  With the predicted low temperatures for the Evansville area, this means that we might see something like 25% flower kill from this weekend’s freeze.

o   This is NOT necessarily bad news.  Fruit trees generally produce more flowers (and tiny fruit) than the tree can bear, and the savvy gardener knows that they should thin the fruit within 30 days after the blossoms drop.  If we only lose 25% of the blooms, and we don’t get any further freezes, we may be close to the ideal fruit density anyway.  So, right now, I’m not overly worried.

What should tri-state gardeners be doing now?

*         Don’t panic!  This weekend’s freeze shouldn’t kill any plants.  It may cause any open blooms to die and drop off, but the plants themselves will be fine.

*         Don’t try to cover daffodils and other blooming bulbs with a sheet.  While the sheet may provide a few degrees of protection, the weight of the sheet, which will be even heavier because of any rain or snow that soaks it, will snap off the flower stems anyway.

*         Mulch strawberries with 6 or 8 inches of straw, or 3 to 4 inches of leaves.  Again, the plants won’t be killed by the freeze, but we don’t want to lose the “king buds” which provide the first, and largest, berries.  Be prepared to remove this mulch when the temperatures warm back up next week.

*         Do NOT plant any annuals (flowers or vegetables) early, to take advantage of today’s warmth or the return of warmer temperatures next week.  We are still not done with winter, and in southern Indiana, we NORMALLY can expect our last frost during the week of April 10.  Refer to the Indiana Vegetable Planting Calendar to know when it is considered safe to plant.

*         Rather than sit around and worrying about the weather, consider attending this weekend’s Small Farm and Garden Conference, held Saturday at the Henderson County (KY) Extension Office.  Click
here to get more information and download the schedule.

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