Okay, here it comes, folks. Whether you looking forward to this first frost of the season after a frustrating growing season or you are dreading it, there is just no way to prevent this cold snap. You may mourning the loss of a flower that is looking particularly lovely at the moment or the end of the tomato season for this year, but the inevitable is upon us.
Our average first frost in fall is about October 7; It looks like we will be right on time this year.
Evaluate your garden: There will likely be a week or two of above-freezing days once this first taste of cold is past, so it is possible to protect and save some plants to enjoy yet. Some protection is needed though. Check the weather forecast. If the temperature is likely to remain above 30 degrees, many plants will survive with a covering fabric, sheets or blankets. Don’t use plastic! If the temperature is expected to get down to the mid twenties though, more serious protection is imperative.
If you would like to save color pots or container gardens for a bit yet, move them into a garage or porch for the next day or two, or cover with blankets.
House plants and tropicals such as hibiscus should already be back indoors by now, but if not, bring them in or make peace with their demise.
Favorite annual plants in the ground can be covered with blankets or even a cardboard box. Some, such as geraniums and coleus, can be dug and enjoyed on a window sill for weeks to come or stored for the winter. It’s a great way to extend the season a bit!
Perennials, trees and shrubs should be allowed to fend for themselves for now.
Check your veggie garden. Warm-season crops such as tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, summer squash, and eggplant are most at risk.
Tomatoes: Pick any remaining fruit that have reached at least half their mature size or have any pinkish color at all. These will ripen nicely indoors stored in a single layer, stem end down, on the counter or in a box in the basement but out of direct sunlight. Do not refrigerate!
You can also pull or cut the entire tomato vine and hang it upside down in a garage or basement. The tomatoes will continue to ripen as the vine dries. You may have vine-ripened tomatoes for Thanksgiving using this method!
Cucumbers and zucchini are good eating at any size so pick any that you find. Use these fresh, store in the refrigerator for no more than four days or process into pickles.
Peppers are also good at all but the smallest size no matter what the color. They will keep in the refrigerator also, or can be pickled or frozen for future use.
Remaining melons and eggplant fruits will not mature further once picked, so unless they are ready, can be discarded.
Winter squash and pumpkins can be covered with a sheet or blanket if they are not mature. If the skins on these are firm when pressed with a fingernail, harvest, leaving three inches of stem if possible. Breaking off the stem where it joins the fruit causes an open wound that leaves the squash susceptible to rot, so use these first.
Cool tolerant leaf crops such as lettuce and spinach and Cole crops such as cabbage and Brussels Sprouts can just be covered unless the coming cold is well below the freezing mark. If you must pick, cut leaves can be stored wrapped in damp paper toweling and stored in the refrigerator for a few days for last-of-the-garden salads. Brussels Sprouts will be sweeter after a light frost.
Root crops such as beets, radishes, carrots, turnips and rutabaga can remain in the garden for now. A frost may cause the leaves to brown but will not harm the fleshy roots protected by the earth.
Enjoy these last harvests and remember: Spring will be here before you know it!