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Environment & Energy

Impending Deep Frost Just Part of the Season

With predicted temperatures to hit lows in the mid-20's overnight into Tuesday morning, gardeners and orchard owners have some reason to be concerned.

But Susan Feather, a commercial educator for the Allegheny Extension of Penn State said there is a little bit of an overreaction to the drop in temperatures.

"We're so tricked by this weather. It is March, it is March!" she said. "This is not at all cold for March. The plants were tricked by that very warm weather we had the last few weeks, so some of the things that are finished blooming wouldn't have even started blooming normally by now."

She admitted there should be concern for some plants, but home gardeners can protect their plants just like orchard owners.

"Usually it's a matter of turning on sprinklers bright and early tomorrow morning," she said. "As that water hits the plants it's going to freeze on there, and that actually generates heat. So, as counterintuitive as that might sound, that can actually prevent the frost damage."

Feather said for a home garden, in place of a sprinkler, cloth can be put over flowers or plants to keep them warm through the night. She said most plants with new life are capable of handling these temperatures because they have adapted over time to expect them. She said there can still be concerns with some new growth.

"While flowers can be killed without damage to the plant, that tender new growth actually concerns me more on trees and shrubs, because if that gets killed by tonight's cold weather, the plant has to spend its carbohydrate reserves to send out another flush of growth," she said.

Feather also had bad news for gardeners who have already planted such tender plants as tomatoes, because they will not likely survive the cold. She suggested waiting to plant tomatoes until later in the season because severe drops in temperature can realistically continue until Memorial Day or even farther.