Fight against frost

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Tino Carnevale

THERE is some­thing ethe­real about walk­ing out into the overwhelming still­ness of a frosty morn­ing. The land­scape seems sus­pended; it is like en­ter­ing a pic­ture.

Al­though that may seem all very ro­man­tic and in re­al­ity it is sharp and brac­ing. Some morn­ings it can make it very diffi cult to get out from un­der the cov­ers and the air can lit­er­ally take your breath away.

Frost is one of those en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors which can be dev­as­tat­ing to both the gar­den and the gar­dener.

Many Tas­ma­ni­ans live in ar­eas that re­ceive frost and will have dealt with losses some­where along the line and in cer­tain years no mat­ter how well you know your gar­den we can still get caught out.

Frost hap­pens when solid ob­jects, like the ground, get colder than the freez­ing point of wa­ter and the mois­ture in the air turns to ice crys­tals and set­tle.

When this hap­pens to ten­der plant tis­sue, the wa­ter in­side the cell struc­ture swells and then rup­tures as it melts, turn­ing your plant to black mush.

Wa­ter holds its tem­per­a­ture ex­tremely well and will ac­tu­ally re­lease heat as it freezes, so wa­ter­ing the night be­fore a big frost is due can help pre­vent the frost

from set­tling

There are a few ways you can go about pro­tect­ing your plants from the harm­ful ef­fects of frost and, like with ev­ery­thing in gar­den­ing, you might need to use a com­bi­na­tion of tech­niques to get the best out­come.

The cheap­est and most ba­sic form of frost pro­tec­tion is to de­sign your gar­den in a way that uses hardy plants to shield those that are more vul­ner­a­ble. A hedge row of frost hardy ev­er­greens like camel­lia sasan­qua can cre­ate a mi­cro- cli­mate within your gar­den where you will have more suc­cess grow­ing frost- ten­der plants.

You can also use the ther­mal mass of large rocks, brick walls and bod­ies of wa­ter that will heat up dur­ing the day and slowly ra­di­ate it out at night.

Wa­ter holds its tem­per­a­ture ex­tremely well and will ac­tu­ally re­lease heat as it freezes, so wa­ter­ing the night be­fore a big frost is due can help pre­vent the frost from set­tling on that area.

You could also use a glass cloche, which is like a big wine bot­tle with the bot­tom re­moved, that fi ts over your plants.

Glass is a good in­su­la­tor which means cloches are very ef­fec­tive and give the plant good pro­tec­tion but, they can be ex­tremely ex­pen­sive.

A plas­tic bot­tle with the bot­tom cut off cer­tainly doesn’t have the same in­su­lat­ing or aes­thetic qual­i­ties but does of­fer some level of pro­tec­tion.

For larger plants or for groups of plants, sim­ple struc­tures of bam­boo poles and hes­sian are very ef­fec­tive, al­though some­thing as ba­sic as sheets of news­pa­per or an old shirt thrown over the plant will work in an emer­gency.

Potas­sium thick­ens the cell walls of plants, al­low­ing them to with­stand greater fluc­tu­a­tions in tem­per­a­ture, so a hand­ful of sul­phate of po­tash can help harden up your plant mak­ing it more re­sis­tant to frosts.

If you do have a plant that has been dam­aged by frost, re­sist the urge to clean up the burnt outer leaves, al­though they can look pretty aw­ful.

It is best to leave them so they can pro­tect the in­ner, un­af­fected growth and any new shoots that ap­pear. Wait un­til the dan­ger is over to cut back the plant if needed.

Frost is usu­ally thought of as a de­struc­tive force but it defi nitely has a lot of pos­i­tive ef­fects in the gar­den.

Kale is al­ways best har­vested af­ter a frost as the leaves are more ten­der and the fl avour is in­ten­sifi ed.

The frosty weather is also one of the rea­sons why we grow such good berries and fruit in this state as many of these crops need pe­ri­ods of win­ter chill to pro­duce well next sea­son. Hope­fully the thought of next sea­son’s de­li­cious blue­ber­ries keeps you a lit­tle warmer the next time you are out in the cold.

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