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Winter Storm In May!

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

How to handle wind, frost, and cold temperatures when you have already put your transplants in the ground.

Growing up in Colorado, the weather is always a surprise. We often tell folks who move here to keep an umbrella, winter coat, and shorts in their car since the weather is usually an absolute wild card. We had just direct-sown several seeds as well as putting many of our transplants into the ground and out of nowhere, we were hit with a winter storm. The nights were down to 28º(F), and we had several inches of snow. This happened 3 years ago to the day, but we weren't anticipating any more frost or snow as the 10-day forecast hadn't reflected any danger until the storm came out of nowhere. We were able to make it through the 4 days cold front with minimal loss. Here are some tips on what to do if this happens to you.


Container Gardening

While we do grow a large variety of plants every year, we block off the majority of our property for our pumpkin patch. We use over 120 containers for various tomatoes, chilis, eggplant, tomatillos, beans, etc. This may be larger scale than the average garden of course, but the same information applies. When you see cold temperatures coming you have a couple of options for your containers.

The first and easiest solution is to bring your containers inside. Plants can still survive with little to no light for a bit so it's safe to bring them inside, even if you don't have a south-facing window. Since we had so many, we utilized our garage space. We would open the garage door to allow natural light when the daytime temps were warmer or used our fluorescent garage lights when it was too cold to do so.

Take out containers, Tupperware, and plastic cups.

All of these are an absolute must for gardeners in colder zones!

Whenever we order takeout, we wash and save our clear plastic to-go containers. There is a Thai place near us we adore, and we order soup often. These containers are clear plastic and hold about 38-40 ounces of soup. When snow, frost, or even wind are in the forecast, you can cover your plants with these. In essence, these act as a mini-greenhouse for each plant. The sun will go through the plastic and generate heat inside the container, while the container holds in the heat, much like the inside of your car may be hot when you open your car door on a warm day.

We had our plants covered with containers, clear Tupperware, and solo cups during this storm. They were able to stay frost-free and warm enough to survive once the days warmed up again. The only caveat to this is to remove these in time. Once the days get warmer and the sun comes back out, the temperatures under your containers can elevate quite a bit. Solo cups won't get as warm as quickly since they are usually colored, but any clear container will heat up quickly. If they aren't removed once the sun comes out, the plants can actually bake inside. If this is a concern, you can cover the plants with protective containers, then put a blanket or tarp over them to provide shade. You can also use this method for your container garden items, we opted to bring ours in as we didn't have enough protective containers for all of our plants.

Tarps, mulch, and burlap

Tarps, mulch, and burlap can all be used to cover raised beds and containers. The key is to make sure that all sides of the tarp are tucked in or held down in some way to keep the warmth in. We will have some more updates now that the weather is warm.

What other helpful hints would you offer those who may encounter winter weather conditions during gardening season?

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