Winter shows no signs of letting up in many parts of the country, and many gardeners will try to defy the odds, throw care to the wind and accelerate the beginning of the planting season with reckless abandon.
Fortunately, the downside of such a gamble is minimal. Perhaps a few flats of mushy annuals will need to be replanted. But if you’d like to improve your odds of beating Mother Nature at her own game, try a few of these tricks to jump-start your gardening season.
Apply a thick layer of organic mulch around the base of all plants. It keep the roots warmer, and helps to maintain the soil temperatures at a more even level, which can reduce the chances of the ground freezing or heaving.
Mulch will do nothing for any winter damage that occurs above ground. But as long as what’s underground is still alive, there is a good chance of partial or full recovery above.
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On certain plants, such as spinach and strawberries, you can cover the entire plant in a layer of straw mulch to add an additional barrier of protection for the roots and foliage. The mulch is light enough so that it won’t smother the plants, and will allow enough light in for plants to function.
Physical barriers are another effective way to retain and capture a few extra degrees of heat while keeping killing frost off young plants. These protective covers can be the difference between survival or not, particularly for tender new plants that are placed in the ground before the last risk of frost has passed.
One common choice is known as a floating row cover. It is typically made of fabric that is strong enough to withstand the weather, but light enough to lay directly upon the plants — creating the appearance that the fabric is floating, hence its name.
Or you can support row-cover material with metal wire, conduit or PVC pipes stuck into the garden beds. The material is placed over the frame supports a few inches to a foot above the plants. It is then pulled tightly and secured around all the edges with bricks, soil or whatever you may have that is convenient and sturdy enough to hold it in place.
Row-cover material made for such purpose is designed to allow light, water and air in but provide a protective barrier from frost and pests. When the sides are secured around the bed completely, several extra degrees of warmth can be retained and could make the difference in survival for marginally hardy plants.