The National Weather Service posted a frost advisory for my area (north Georgia) for last Sunday night. One bit of good news is that the frost did not appear. The other bit of good news is that I know how to prepare my garden for the first frost in fall.
Most of that preparation started many weeks ago, but there are always some last minute things to consider. This is what I did to get ready:
The evening before the projected frost, I harvested the largest of the remaining peppers. The peppers are the last of my warm-season crops, along with a little basil still standing out there. The cucumbers are already gone from the garden.
That is pretty much all I did, because most plants in my garden are ready for colder weather. The cool-season crops will do just fine in the early freezes of autumn. Some flowers will look terrible after a frost, but that is the way it goes. Some perennials, including a few herbs (thyme, rosemary, for example), will keep green leaves through the winter, and others will die back — turning brown and crunchy — but grow back from their roots in spring. I don’t worry about any of these.
This is a more complete list of some steps I take most years to get ready for the first frost:
Garden checklist to prepare for the first frost
- Harvest remaining warm-season crops that are mature enough to either finish ripening indoors or use “as is” in the kitchen.
- Check soil moisture. If the soil is dry, water the garden. Roots in moist soil are better-protected from cold than roots in dry soil. (We have had enough rain recently that soil moisture is plentiful.)
- If I had frost-tender plants that I wanted to protect (like a still-healthy tomato plant), to keep them growing another few weeks, I would cover them with row-covers or other fabric. Often, the first frost is followed by a stretch of warmer weather that allows warm-season crops to keep producing, if they survived.
- If I hadn’t already done this, I would pinch off any flowers and flower-buds that were on my warm-season crops (tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, etc), to encourage the plants to put their remaining energy into maturing their existing fruits.
- Cool-season crops do not usually need protection (like row-covers) for the first frost, so I don’t cover these. An exception would be if the plants were late going into the garden and, as a result, still just seedlings. Another would be when the frost follows a stretch of very warm days (highs in the 70s, for example), which could leave the plants unprepared to withstand a sudden drop into freezing temperatures. In the South, this happens.
Where I live, north of Atlanta, the first frost usually shows up around the first of November, which is soon.
When the first freezes finally arrive, it will be time to remove the last of the summer crops. If you are taking a break from gardening this winter (some people who aren’t me do this), be sure to cover the soil with some kind of mulch. Mulch protects the soil, preventing erosion by rain/wind and helping to maintain its fertility.