Hope For Utah's Gardeners After Freezing Weather Threatens Plants

May 17, 2017

The storm that swept through Northern Utah Tuesday night had residents across the Wasatch Front scraping snow off their cars by the next morning -- and some of Northern Utah’s gardeners scraping snow and frost off their plants.

This week’s weather may not be ideal conditions for growing warm-weather crops, but it may not spell doom for this season’s garden crop, said USU Extension Horticulturist JayDee Gunnell particularly not for hardy cold-weather plants.  

“... Peas, onions, carrots, radishes they’re actually very cold-hearty and you don’t have to worry about covering those at all,” Gunnell said.

Likewise, lettuce, spinach, beets, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage are all plants Gunnell said are in the clear for freezing temperatures.

But when it comes to more temperamental warm-weather crops peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and squash included Gunnell recommended Utah’s gardeners take action when temperatures dip to 33 degrees or below.

The quick fix, he said, is coverage. Conscientious gardeners can tuck their crops in for the night with a frost blanket, cloth row cover or a simple sheet of plastic. Any of these options, Gunnell said, can add 3-5 degrees to the ambient air temperature the difference between life and death for warm-season vegetables.

As you’re covering at-risk plants, Gunnell said take care to weight the edges of whatever coverage you’re using with stones or bricks to make sure no cold air can get in and no warm air can get out. And take care that no part of your coverage of choice touches the leaves, particularly with plants like tomatoes and peppers.

“Plants such as tomatoes and peppers, their growing points are at the tip so you have to make sure that those are protected and insulated against the touching of the plastic,” Gunnell said.

It’s just as important to uncover your plants in the morning as it is to cover them at night.

“Plastic, during the day, will act as a miniature greenhouse and warm that air up quite a bit.”

Luckily, Gunnell said it’s early enough in the season that any plants that may not survive the cold can be replaced.

“I’m not overly concerned. If I have to buy more and support the local industry then I’m OK doing that,” Gunnell said.

Though gardening in Utah comes with the ups and downs of unexpected weather conditions, Gunnell said the USU Extension can help Utah’s gardeners navigate the storm or storms.

“Gardening is an adventure in Utah,“ he said. “I would definitely say get familiar with the local extension office. USU Extension has professionals that can help with any questions or concerns you have.”