Get ready to cover up; frost damage possible

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fear the frost. Resist the temptation to plant.

Yes, spring has sprung early this year in southern Wisconsin—extremely early.

The trees know it, and they’re blossoming early.

But resist the impulse to plunk those tomatoes or petunias in the ground, said Mark Dwyer, director of horticulture at Janesville’s Rotary Gardens.

Trees may yet pay the price for their blossoming. Rob Ten Eyck at Ten Eyck Orchard near Brodhead said he’s worried that a frost could kill blossoms. No blossoms means no apples this fall.

Ten Eyck said he can’t remember blossoms so early in his 36 years in the business, and he can’t remember his father mentioning such an early spring.

Dwyer said trees and other plants at Rotary Gardens are two to three weeks ahead of schedule.

Shoots poking out of the ground as well as blossoms on trees and shrubs face damage if a hard frost settles in one of these nights, Dwyer said.

Warmer soil triggers many plants’ spring growth, “and with all those 80-degree days we’ve had over the past two weeks, it’s insane,” Dwyer said.

Even so, the soil is not yet warm enough to make tomato seedlings comfortable, he said.

Dwyer noted some stores are already selling garden plants. He said there’s nothing wrong with buying them, but planting should wait.

If you want to buy now, keep the plants indoors overnight and put them out during the day, Dwyer advised.

Rotary Gardens is sticking with a safer planting schedule. Its annual sale of vegetable and herb seedlings is set for May 14-16, Dwyer said.

Bulbs, trees and bushes are sprouting or flowering on their own, however, and they’re at risk.

“If we get another frost, which is entirely possible over the next four to five weeks, it could damage a lot of plants,” Dwyer said.

Ten Eyck said he recorded 32 degrees Saturday morning, but his blossoming trees appear undamaged.

Ten Eyck said homeowners who want to protect their blossoming fruit trees could simply put a sheet over them if a frost threatens. That’s if the trees are low enough to permit it, of course, and the frost doesn’t get down to the low 20s.

Dwyer said covering plants will protect them in most cases, just as it does in the fall.

Ten Eyck said another method is to sprinkle water on fruit trees during the frost. As the water freezes, a small amount of heat is released, which keeps the blossoms warm enough. However, to make that work, the sprinkling must be almost constant until the night passes and temperature rises.

Dwyer said gardeners anxious to get things in the ground should take a deep breath and work instead on preparing the soil, weeding and watering.

“I think people should be more concerned about lack of rainfall,” Dwyer said.

“Snowmelt was a long time ago, so now we’re relying on those April showers, and we’re just not getting them,” Dwyer said.

Watering now will help plants develop deep roots, which will help them weather at hot, dry summer.

That is, unless summer is cool and damp.

You just never know.

Last updated: 1:24 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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