For those ready to start digging in to gardening for the season, regional agricultural experts say it’s best to wait until after Mother’s Day.
“We see this every year, those first little bits of warm weather and people get spring fever,” Tammy Algood, a marketing specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, said. said. The pop of cold after a warm spell isn’t unusual for this area, she said, but what’s different this year is the warm spell has lasted a bit longer than normal, possibly driving people to their gardens a little too soon.
Plants that were already in the ground were in danger over the weekend as temperatures dropped into the mid-20s Sunday morning.
“By now, people think they're pretty hardy but they're not,” Algood said.
But for those who can’t wait to plant, Algood said there are ways to save plants in case more cold comes our way. One way is to throw a blanket over the plants several hours before the sun sets to trap heat around the plants. The last frost date for east Tennessee isn’t until April 22, so gardeners with plants in the ground will need to be vigilant in monitoring temperatures and taking appropriate action to keep plants alive.
Some plants will fare better in the cold temperatures that others, according to John Hamrick, an agent with the University of Tennessee Agriculture Extension Office in Washington County. He said local gardeners should keep an eye out for any fruits they’ve planted as they don’t handle cold as well as vegetables like cabbage, snow peas and broccoli.
“When the buds start to get tender they're susceptible to cold temperatures,” Hamrick said.
Even if the cold temperatures get to some of the plants, Hamrick said not to give up hope. If half the buds survive, even less in some plants, he said, there’s still a chance the plant can produce a close-to-normal yield for the season.
But he cautions those who choose to cover their plants to make sure they’re uncovered once the weather starts heating up, or even on cold days when the sun is bright, as it can still produce heat and the trapped heat can cause just as much damage, kind of like a car that sits in the sun for too long.
The extension office is always open for gardening questions, Hamrick said, and can be reached by calling 753-1680. Resources can also be found at the Tennessee Department of Agriculture’s website, or by downloading the Pick Tennessee mobile app, which shows users places they can get farm fresh fruits and vegetables in their area.
“(The app) is a farm at your fingertips,” Algood said. “As you're out and about the app will take you exactly to the farm you'd like to go to.”
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