Winter’s Comin’

Ready of Ol’ Man Winter

October 31st, was slated to be the first hard frost of the season, later than ever. That afternoon, I went down my checklist of things to do in preparation for the cold.

Drip irrigation needed to be shut down so that ice wouldn’t damage the lines. I opened up the drains at the ends and at the low points of the main lines. I also  opened up the valves on all the drip lines so water wouldn’t get trapped anywhere. Some people blow out all the lines with compressed air.

The only parts of the drip system that ever need to be brought indoors are the parts near the spigot: the battery-powered timer, the pressure reducer, and the filter.

But I wasn’t yet finished with water. All hoses got drained, with any sprayers or hose wands removed from their ends. Hoses were also removed from frost-free hydrants to let the water drain freely out their valves. (The hydrants are frost free because water drains and enters the hydrant’s pipe four feet below ground, where temperatures, even in winter, remain at a balmy 50° F. or so.)

Tropical plants indoors

Tropical plants indoors

Moving on to plants . . . Tropical houseplants had all been brought inside, but outside still remained subtropicals, including some potted figs, pomegranates, bay laurel, olive, and an angel’s trumpet (Brugsmansia). Subtropical plants can tolerate, even enjoy, temperatures below freezing, even down as low as 10°F. for some of them. My pomegranates, the varieties Kazake and Salavatski, both from western Asia, are reputedly cold-hardy to below 0°F! All these subropicals will enjoy the great outdoors for a few more weeks, barring a drastic change in the weather.

Some vegetables remaining out in the garden can likewise weather cold weather well. Just to make sure, though, I laid “floating row covers” over beds of endive, mustard greens, and lettuce. These diaphanous coverings keep plants beneath them a few degrees warmer while letting light and water filter through. The soil retains enough heat to protect roots of turnip and winter radishes, which are further protected beneath their leafy canopies.

I forgot to pick and eat Sungold tomatoes, which would be done for after a freezing night. Any red peppers still left on the plants had been harvested; those plants would also be dead on the morrow. I can’t complain; the Sungolds and the peppers bore well and for a longer time than ever before.

The final cold prep was to check the greenhouse, making sure window, sidewalls, and doors are closed up tight, and the heater is functional.

I’m ready for Ol’ Man Winter.

Not So Cold

The morning after: The cold turned out to be not nearly as dramatic as expected. A little before sunrise a cloud cover crept over the sky, tucking in the earth’s warmth rather than letting it radiate out to a clear sky. The low temperature for the night was 28°F. Even the pepper and tomato plants had toughened up enough by then to tolerate that amount of cold. Not to keep ripening good-tasting fruit, though.

Temperatures aren’t predicted to drop near freezing for many days after that night, but I didn’t consider my scurrying around to move or cover plants, and drain water lines, to be wasted effort. Endives and other greens still out in the vegetable garden transpire very little water in cool weather, and even less so when covered with floating row covers.

The only watering needed from then on would be of the compost pile, easily accessible from one of the frost-free hydrants and a short length of hose, connected as needed.

“Trip” to the Mediterranean

Greenhouse temperatures dropped only to 40°F, the temperature at which I set the thermostat. Cloudy days in there are like today are akin to winter days along the Mediterranean: Very cool and somewhat dreary. On sunny days, I open the greenhouse door to bathe in a tropical paradise of sunlight, heat, and high humidity, with lush plants of lettuce, mustard, arugula, celery, chard, claytonia, and parsley blanketing the ground. Greenhouse fig and greens

Fig trees in the greenhouse have slowly eased their way into dormancy. I hurried them along by lopping them back — except for the few branches still ripening a few fruits. Those figs, ripening in low sun and cooler weather (even in the greenhouse), aren’t as tasty as those of summer and early autumn. I wonder how tasty November figs are in Italy and Greece?



Dry Soil

    Digging a hole to bury an animal last week gave me new respect for the plant world. Each shovelful brought up dusty, light brown soil, even to a depth of more than two feet. That’s expected, since it hasn’t rained more than 1/4 of an inch here for the past five weeks.
    With their leaves flagging in midday, trees and shrubs don’t exactly look spry. Still, they are alive, even some spring-planted trees and shrubs which have had little time to spread their roots deep and wide.

Thirsty, young Asian persimmon

Thirsty, young Asian persimmon

    Appearance of a soil can be deceiving. There’s some water lurking within those pores, water held tightly by capillary attraction. After heavy rains or irrigation, all soil pores get filled with water, a situation as bad for plants, if it lasts too long, as dry soil. Plant roots need air as well as moisture; air gets sucked in once gravity drains water from the largest soil pores.
    From then on, capillary attraction is what holds moisture in the ground — a pleasant situation for plants because the roots can tap into the more loosely held capillary water while they breathe freely. I prepare for possible droughts when planting by digging relatively small planting holes, which minimizes the amount of ground loosened up, in turn, among other benefits, preserving capillary networks in the soil. (Mulching and watering, right after planting, also helps.)
    Eventually, more and more of the loosely held capillary moisture gets sucked out of the ground by plants and evaporation. At some point, there’s still moisture in the soil, but what’s left is in the smallest pores and right against soil particles. It’s tightly held capillary moisture, water that plants can’t access. They wilt. When moisture levels drop to what’s known as the “permanent wilting point,” plants die.
    We’re not there yet and now, toward the end of the season, woody plants do have a Plan B: They can just drop their leaves, reducing moisture loss from stems and roots, and segue into winter on stored energy and moisture. To a point.

Cold Air

    If it’s not one thing, weather-wise, it’s another. On September 26th, I woke to find parts of the lawn hoary with frost. I’m not complaining. Frost should be expected, on average, around that date around here. Except that I’ve been spoiled for the last few years by much later frosts, frosts, so late that I pulled out old tomato plants because chilly weather drained tomatoes of their flavor rather than frosty weather killing the plants.Endive, lettuce, and old tomato plants
    Also, no complaints because the September 26th brought only a light frost; temperatures just hit 32°F. and the hoariness was spotty, here and there. A light frost is a good thing this time of year. It signals plants to get ready for even colder weather. In preparing for cold, cell walls strengthen and permeability of cells to water is actively altered. Even subtropical plants like peppers and tomatoes toughen up, with some chilly preparation, so that they can now tolerate temperatures that drop even a few degrees below freezing.
    Tender vegetables, frost or no frost, on the wane, have left the door open to vegetables that enjoy the cool weather of autumn. Most of the garden now presents a verdant sight of beds lush with lettuce, Chinese cabbages, winter radishes, endive, turnips, cabbages, arugula, mustard greens, carrot tops, and leeks, all ready for harvest, at my leisure, over the next few weeks.

Fall Black Raspberries

    Segueing over to the fruit world, I’m still harvesting the last of the blackcaps (black raspberries) of the season. Blackcaps? Anyone familiar with this fruit, abundant in the wild and often cultivated, knows that they ripen in midsummer.

Niwot blackcap, now ripe

Niwot blackcap, now ripe

    Last year I planted two new varieties of blackcap, Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure. With most blackcaps, canes just grow their first year, then fruit their second year. (During the second year, new canes are also growing, to fruit the following year, so a planting bears fruit every year.) Niwot and Ohio’s Treasure bear fruit at the end of the canes’ first year of growth, in late summer and autumn. Those same canes — I think — then continue bearing the following year, in summer, just like most blackcaps.
    I haven’t yet decided whether Ohio’s Treasure or Niwot offer the better berry, but it’s nice to be harvesting fresh berries this late in the season.


Half a Pear, Tree

   Perhaps last winter’s weather — extended cold, but not frigid temperatures, and hardly any snow — is still playing games with us. Perhaps it is mischief from the early, extended, very warm weather in early spring that was followed by plummeting temperatures and our biggest snowfall (4 inches) of the year. Whatever the reason, some weird things are going on this growing season.Half dead pear tree
    Look at one of my old pear trees, for instance. This tree might be called my “sample” or my “first cut” pear tree. When I hear tell of a pear variety that might be worth growing, I get a scion and graft it onto this tree. The scion bears quickly, in theory, at least, and, if it passes the “first cut,” perhaps it will warrant its own tree. There’s not enough time or space to put every Tom, Dick, and Harry of a pear variety on its own tree.
    The tree now has about a dozen varieties of pear growing off various branches. That’s not weird, though. What is weird is that, right now, the top half of the tree is fully leafed out while limbs on the bottom half of the tree are leafless.
    A disease? Doubtful. A disease killing that much of a tree at once would probably originate in the trunk or roots, in which case the whole tree or only the upper portion would be leafless. And anyway, those leafless limbs are not dead. Cutting beneath the bark reveals living, green tissue.
    My hypothesis — a weak one — is that the cold snap in spring, where temperatures in the ‘teens followed a spate of temperatures in the 70’s, is the culprit. Warm temperatures in late winter and spring cause plants to rapidly awaken and lose the cold-hardiness they maintained through the coldest parts of winter. The pears seemed quite awake when that cold spell struck.
    But why was only the bottom portion of the tree affected? (Here’s the weakness in my hypothesis.) Windless, clear nights, such as during spring’s cold snap, bring a temperature inversion. Under such conditions, denser cold air can settle down near ground level. Even a few feet of elevation can make a difference, one that’s evident when riding a bicycle or motorcycle on a clear summer night on rolling terrain.
    So maybe the bottom half of the pear tree experienced temperatures just below the tipping point where enough damage occurred to delay leafing out.

Other Pear Trees, Still Whole

    No other plants, including other pear trees, experienced this bifurcation. Then again, the “sample” pear is all by itself where the microclimate might be slightly different.
    During that cold snap, the other pears were quite awake, seemingly just about ready to spread their blossoms. I was braced for a total crop loss. Weirdly, the trees went on to blossom just fine and now have what’s shaping up to be a decent load of fruit on them.

Seedling Troubles

    More weirdness: Every season I sow vegetable seeds according to a schedule I’ve developed over the years. I sow the seeds in mini-furrows in flats of potting soil or potting soil topped with a mix of peat moss and perlite. Every season I make my own potting soil from a mix of equal parts peat moss, perlite, compost, and garden soil, with everything sifted together through half-inch mesh hardware cloth.
 Sickly tomato seedlings   And every season I’ve had sturdy, lush green transplants to set out over the past few weeks. Not this season. Too many of the transplants are stunted, with flaccid leaves that are not uniformly lush green. Some have slight, interveinal yellowing of oldest leaves, some have slight reddening of veins, hinting, respectively, at insufficient nitrogen and phosphorus uptake .
    As usual, the weather could be blamed. Those auspicious, sunny days of late winter gave way to a long period of overcast days. Rain or not is not the issue because seedlings were in the greenhouse, watered as needed. Overwatered? Underwatered? Cool greenhouse temperatures could limit root growth, in turn limiting uptake of nutrients even if they are in the soil.
    The potting soil could be the culprit. Although ingredients of my mix are always proportionately the same, the compost isn’t exactly the same from year to year. Same goes for the “garden soil” that goes into the mix. I scrape it up from various places around the yard: the bottom of a finished compost bin, from my catch-all extra soil bin, from top layers of a pond I’m occasionally hand-digging.
    A couple of other gardeners and farmers have concurred with their seedlings’ poor growth this year. Perhaps it was the weather? Do you want to weigh in?

And the Winner Is . . .

    Very few people offered hypotheses on why only one limb of my plum tree was in bloom. Neither the weather nor any other environmental condition was to blame. In fact, I had grafted the tree a few years ago to four different varieties in order to spread out the harvest date and offer a greater variety of plum flavors.Plum, blossoming branch
    The bulk of the tree had already flowered.The one blooming branch was that of beach plum, the least reliable, smallest, and, to my taste, least flavorful of the lot. Perhaps I’ll graft that limb over to yet another variety.
    Congratulations to Tom,, on winning a copy of my book Grow Fruit Naturally.



    The talk of the town these days is the weather. In this town, at least, and other towns throughout the Northeast. After a relatively snowless winter punctuated with warm spells, spring knocked early at winter’s door and was let in. Even I, who try to be guided by the calendar rather than my gut, succumbed, planting peas a full two weeks earlier than my usual date of April 1st. Flowering trees and bushes — and more importantly, those whose flowers later morph into luscious fruits — similarly fell prey to spring weather’s apparent arrival.
    As I write, snowflakes tumble down from a gray sky, adding to the three inches of snow already piled onto spring green grass. Temperatures tonight and tomorrow night are predicted to drop near 20 degrees F. We’ve all been duped!!

Nanking cherry flowers with snow

Nanking cherry flowers with snow

    I’m most concerned, and least able to do anything about, weather’s effect on my fruit trees and bushes. Nanking cherries were in full bloom a few days ago, a full two weeks earlier than average. Asian pear flower buds look about to pop open, blueberry buds have fattened in preparation for opening , and black currants and gooseberries have almost fully leafed out.
    Options available to commercial orchards are not feasible in backyards. Such as sprinkling plants with water so that the heat of fusion released as water freezes keeps buds warm; you can’t stop sprinkling until weather warms enough to melt all ice. On clear, cold nights, heavier, cold air sinks but can be warmed by mixing in warm air from higher up. Not many backyard gardeners have wind machines or are willing to have a helicopter hover overhead all night pushing down warmer air.
    What we backyard growers can do that orchardists cannot, feasibly, is to snug a few small plants — bushes and dwarf trees — beneath a blanket. (Except that I have a lot more than a few small fruit plants.) That’s about it. Besides keeping fingers crossed and hoping for the best.

Winter Cold!!

Peach flower buds, dead

Peach flower buds, dead

   Peaches are famous for their early blossoming, so I was especially worried for them. My peach tree spent its first few years in a large pot which could be conveniently lugged into the garage whenever cold weather threatened its blossoms.
    No need to worry this year. I checked the fat, flower buds, and they are already dead. Winter’s cold and/or fluctuating temperatures evidently had already done them in.

(Too) Early Peas

    My early planted peas took advantage of the last couple of weeks of balmy weather and sprouted quickly. Temperatures near 20° will surely freeze those sprouts. They might resprout from protected buds below ground, or not.
    I nudged ol’ man winter aside and created a warmer microclimate over the sprouts by putting up metal hoops covered with row covers over them. They may have been better off with the blanket of snow tucked all around them. Then again, the snow cover might settle too much, or blow away.
    In a few days, I’ll see how the peas fared. Worst case scenario: replant.

Not Climate Change

    “Climate change” is the battle cry for this whacky weather. But is it really so whacky?
    As far as the cold, the average date for the last killing frost of spring in my garden is around the third week in May. The key word here is “average.” Looking at a tabulation of percent chance of cold temperatures on various spring dates (, on average there’s a 50% chance of the thermometer hitting 24° on April 14th around here, a 10% chance on April 27th.

Peas under tunnels & snow

Peas under tunnels & snow

    “Frost” means 32°F. For that magic 32°, which is lethal to tomato and pepper seedlings but of no consequence to cabbage and onion transplants, there’s a 50% chance of that temperature on May 13th, even a 10% chance on May 27th.
    Of course, temperatures in my (or your) garden could be a few degrees different from those at nearby weather stations, which supply those averages. Still, looking back at my own records, while last year Nanking cherries blossomed here on May 2nd in 1999, they blossomed on April 18th in 2004, on April 26th in 2012, and on March 29th in 2015.
    So it seems like whacky weather is the norm. Except this year, it does still seem that the early warming was slightly earlier, and the later cold — 15°F, now, the day after the snowfall — more intense. Then again, Nanking cherries have never failed me.

Back to the Future

Time to jump into the future, again. It’s autumn of this year and tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and other summer delicacies are on the wane. Does the vegetable garden appear melancholy and forlorn? No! It’s lush with savory greens that thrive in that cool, moist weather to come, vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, radishes, turnips, lettuce, and endive. (Right now I hunker more for tomatoes and peppers than cabbages and turnips but nippy temperatures and shorter days will, I know from experience, bring on the appeal of autumn vegetables.)
Planning and planting need to take place right now in order to realize my autumnal vision. First on the agenda will be sowing seeds of cabbage and broccoli, in early June, not right out in the garden but in seed flats from which, after about a week they’ll be pricked out into individual cells in plastic trays. A little more

than a month after that, the plants will be ready for their permanent home in the garden. That might be where early bush beans or summer squashes had been sown, harvested, and cleared out of the way. The point is that autumn’s broccoli and cabbage plants, although sown in early June, need not take up space in the garden until late in July.

As I wrote a few weeks ago, information on frost dates, both the last spring frost  and the first autumn frost dates — can be gleaned by choosing a state from the website and then finding weather data for a nearby location. That nearby location for me is Poughkeepsie, NY, for which there is a 50% chance of the temperature dropping to 32°F on October 9th.
I figure when to plant broccoli and cabbage by counting back the number of days these plants need to reach maturity from the average date for the first killing frost. And then I add more days because I don’t want to necessarily wait until that first frost date before I can start harvest.
Not that 32°F. would spell the death knell for broccoli and company. But growth slows dramatically as weather cools and days grow shorter so I like to have my plants pretty much fully grown and ready for harvest before the first frost date. With cooler temperatures, vegetables can sit out in the garden patiently awaiting harvest in good condition. (In warmer regions of the country, vegetable plants will actually grow through winter, making autumn a fine time to sow peas or set out cabbage transplants.)
Other vegetables, with different numbers of days needed to reach maturity, need sowing on various dates through summer. Here’s the planting schedule for my zone 5 autumn garden having an early October first frost date (as well as additional planting dates for vegetables of summer); where frost dates occur earlier, push sowing and planting dates the same amount of time earlier, and vice versa for regions with later frost dates:
•June 1: sow broccoli and cabbage in seed flats; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seed flats or in garden;
•June 7: 3rd sowing of corn and 2nd sowing of bush beans in garden;
•June 14: 2nd sowing of cucumbers in seed flats; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seed flats or in garden;
•June 21: 4th sowing of sweet corn in garden; 2nd sowing of summer squash out in the garden; sow small amount of lettuce and cilantro in seed flats or in garden;
•July 1: sow endive and parsley in seed flats; 3rd sowing of beans in garden;
•July 15: sow beets, chard, turnips, kale, and winter radishes in garden; sow Napa-type Chinese cabbage in seed flats;
•August 1 – September 1: multiple sowings of spinach, small radish varieties, mâche, arugula, mustard greens, and pac choi type Chinese cabbage in garden (early sowing will likely bolt but later sowings will press on late into autumn); keep planting lettuce.
All plants growing in seed flats are transplanted out to the garden as soon as they begin to grow too big for the flats, which is typically four to six weeks after seeds are sown.
Multiple plantings of bush beans and cucumbers are ways to keep ahead of bean beetles (yellow, with dark spots) on the beans and striped cucumber beetles (yellow, with dark stripes) on the cukes. It takes awhile for new plantings to get attacked, and that attack is mitigated by whisking the old plants, with potential attackers still feasting, out of the garden to the innards of the compost pile. Multiple plantings also help with summer squashes’ squash vine borers, evident from wilting leaves and a sawdust-like frass that oozes out of stem, although I’m usually glad to be rescued from excess-squash-syndrome by the time the borers take plants down.
The above schedule omits a few vegetables. Carrots: I don’t grow them, but if you do, July 15th is the date to plant them around here. Some people have luck with autumn peas. I don’t because first it’s too hot for them and then it’s too cold for them. Still, if you want to take a chance, sow them August 1st.
And what about rutabaga, parsnip, and kohlrabi? All I can say is, “Yuk!”

It (Could Be) Cold

I see a lot of gardens under wraps this morning, plants covered with upturned buckets or flowerpots, or blanketed under . . . well . . . blankets. Day after day of balmy temperatures have made it hard to hold back finally getting vegetable and flower transplants out of their pots and into the ground.
But temperatures just below freezing were predicted for last night (May 13th) and everyone got a wakeup call: Freezing temperatures, which could kill tomato, marigold, and other tender plants, are still possible. It’s all about averages; around here, there’s about a 10 percent chance of a frost the middle of May.
The likelihood of cold, frosty, or freezing temperatures has been detailed — see — for locations throughout the country. The closest weather station connected to that site around here is in Poughkeepsie, and in mid-May that site has a 50% chance of experiencing cold weather (36°F.) and a 10% chance of of experiencing frost (32°F.). Cold air, being heavier than warm air, sinks to low-lying spots on clear still nights, such as last night, so my garden in the Wallkill River valley is usually a few degrees colder than surrounding areas, such as Poughkeepsie. Fortunately, temperatures last night here dropped only to 31° F.
Not that lower temperatures would have done my vegetables or flowers any harm. I took the advice I’ve been doling out to others for the past couple of (warm) weeks, and held off planting anything that could be harmed by frost. So tomatoes, peppers, melons, and the like are still in pots that I moved into the warmth of the greenhouse last night.
I’d like to plant out all these cold-tender seedlings but chilly temperatures are predicted for the next few night. Even chilly temperatures, let alone freezing temperatures, are not good for tender plants.
Still, anyone looking out over my garden this morning would have seen white blankets over some beds and overturned flowerpots over a few plants. Because my garden is in a cold spot, temperatures well below freezing were not out of the question for last night. Cold enough temperatures could damage cabbage and its

kin, lettuce, onions, and other cold-hardy transplants that have been growing out in the garden for the past couple of weeks. I had some row cover material readily on hand, so why not, methought, throw it over some of the beds anyway? Just in case.

Throwing covers over plants at 7 in the evening is a lot more pleasant than waking up at 3 am with the sinking feeling that temperatures have really plummeted and then, if they in fact did, running outdoors in the cold darkness to cover plants.
Fruit trees, shrubs, and vines present another story. A freeze won’t kill the plants, but low enough temperatures could kill flowers or developing fruit, as it did on many fruit plants last year. One frigid night and you have to wait a whole year for the next crop. Unfortunately, not much could be done about this situation. Fruit plants here are too many or too big to cover. My tack is to keep fingers crossed.
Critical temperatures for fruit damage vary with the kind of fruit, the stage of flower or fruit development, the depth of cold, and the duration of cold. Probably other things, too, such as humidity and plant nutrition. 

An excellent table of “Critical Temperatures for Frost Damage on Fruit Trees” can be viewed at So, put simply, 25°F would spell death to 90% of my apples, which are in full bloom, and pears, which are post-bloom, and 28% would do in 10% of their fruits. Plums, also post-bloom, tolerate a bit more cold.
In addition to crossing fingers, my tack is also to grow a variety of fruits, and especially native fruits.

Pawpaw blossom, from below.

(Apples, pears, peaches, and most plums are not native.) It’s not a chauvinistic choice; it’s just that these natives — American persimmon, pawpaw, blueberry, grape, and gooseberry, to name a few — are better adapted to our conditions. And not just the weather here. Pests also.

This spring has been the most perfect spring in a long time, with plenty of clear, sunny days and gradually warming temperatures that kept blossoms from jumping the gun. Playing the averages, the critical cold periods should be pretty much be behind us. As with the stock market, though, “Past performance is no guarantee of future returns.”
Update, May 17th: Warm days and nights that are not too chilly are predicted for the next few days, so I planted out tomatoes and peppers today. I’ll still keep an eye on temperatures because there’s still a 10% chance of temperatures dipping to 36° as late as May 28th according to records at the nearby Poughkeepsie weather monitoring station.

May 21, 2009

For a day every week or so, my yard smells like salad dressing. No, I’m not getting the lettuce dressed while it’s still out in the garden. Yes, that smell is vinegar. For the past few years, regular strength vinegar, straight up, has provided nontoxic (except to sprayed weeds), sustainable, “green” weed control on the edges of beds, in paths, and on my brick terrace.

I specify “regular strength” vinegar because our USDA has also been looking into vinegar as weedkiller. On the theory that if a little of something is good, a lot must be better, USDA research focuses on using more concentrated solutions of vinegar – even 20%. Those more concentrated solutions are more effective but you have to be very careful using that stuff. It burns. I’ll stick with salad dressing strength 6% solution.

A couple of benign additions increase the power of my “regular strength” vinegar. First comes vegetable oil – no, not salad dressing again, but to helps the vinegar stick to weeds’ leaves. I use 2 tablespoons of canola oil per gallon of vinegar. Then comes soap, specifically Ivory liquid detergent, 1 tablespoon per gallon, to better spread the vinegar and oil over the leaves.

This mix only kills greenery so needs to be applied regularly to starve roots. Hence my repeated applications.


It’s amazing how many seedlings you can grow in a small space using a Speedling or some other multi-cell plastic (or “plug”) tray. These trays are re-usable, with tapered cells each about an inch square. For example, a 1 foot by 8 inches area was home to my 54 zinnia seedlings. The tapered design allows for good root development and, if the trays are elevated on a screen, the roots stay in bounds by being air-pruned as they try to exit the bottom hole.

I had 54 zinnias, 54 Signet marigolds (ferny, lemon-scented foliage and small, yellow flowers), and a slew of other flowers that I had sowed a month and a half ago in the enthusiasm of spring. A few days ago, the time came to figure out just where to plant all those seedlings. Flowers generally look best when planted out in large masses rather in isolation or anemic strips, so with this many plants, it’s hard to go wrong.

Planting is quick with plug trays. The seedlings were at just the right stage for transplanting, so all I had to do was yank on each stem to pop out a whole plant, root and all. A quick poke of my trowel into the ground was all that was needed to make a home for each seedling. Firming the soil around each plant after dropping it into its waiting home completed the planting . . . except for watering. That watering was thankfully supplied by the inch-and-a-half of rain that followed my planting.

Small plants establish more quickly than large plants, and with less care, so I’m finished with these plants except to enjoy their flowers.


I must have a built-in temperature sensor in my head. Last night (May 18th) my eyes sprung wide open at 1:38 a.m., I walked over to my remote thermometer, and saw that the temperature had just reached that magic number of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The sky was clear and the morning was, to say the least, early, so I guessed that the mercury would dip even lower.

Preparations had already been made for a light frost, but who knew just how cold temperatures might plummet? After all, last year at about this time, a sunny morning greeted me with leaves blackened by a severe freeze. So I got dressed and threw any coverings I could find over any plants that could be protected and needed to be. Key lime, pomegranates, lemon trees, and other potted, tender plants went into the garage. Nothing could be done about the blossoming hardy kiwifruit vines, the soon to blossom grapes, and the fruitlets already developing on apples, pears, and pawpaws.

I went back to sleep.

Morning saw the thermometer reading 28 degrees, hoary frost on the lawn, and a sunny day in the offing. Damage assessment would have to wait until the sun melted frost off everything. And the damage, assessed this morning at 9:30, was  . . . . zip, nil, nein, nada, rien, nothing. It’s amazing the way even tender plants, like those marigolds and zinnias I had planted (and had not protected because there were too many of them), toughen up after a few days outside. It looks like a good year for fruit – unless we get another, more serious, freeze.