Most of the snow has finally disappeared, the soils are beginning to dry, and our urge to get into the gardens is growing stronger each day. If you are anything like me, the idea of getting some color and vegetables in the garden is strong.
Luckily there are quite a few flowers and vegetables that can tolerate a light freeze. Vegetables include lettuces, spinach, kale, radish, and peas. Spring bulbs can also tolerate colder temperatures, especially if the flower buds are still closed. Annuals that can tolerate cooler temperatures, but not heavy freezes, include pansies, sweet alyssum, snapdragon, dianthus, sweet peas, and forget me not.
All of these plants can be planted within the next few weeks to get a jump on the gardening season. If cold nights are predicted, the plants can be protected with a material known as frost blankets or row cover. This spun, light weight material lets water, light, and air through but protects the plants from cold temperatures. Once the temperatures warm up, you can simply remove the cover and enjoy your flowers.
In addition to protecting plants from cold temperatures the material can be used over vegetables to protect them from insect pests. Since light, air, and water get through the material, you can simply leave the row cover stretched over the garden, removing it only to weed, thin, and harvest. The material does have to be removed if your vegetables rely on pollination to set a crop. You can leave the row cover on until your tomatoes, squash, peppers, etc begin to flower to provide the plants with pest protection and added heat.
The best thing about row cover is it is easy to use. All you do is place it over the plants and secure it with landscape staples or rocks. Because it is non-toxic, easy to use, reusable, and fairly inexpensive, row cover is one of my favorite ways to protect my garden plants.
Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.