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Photo: Martha Foley
Photo: Martha Foley

Flirting with frost: what to pick, what to protect

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It's officially fall, and practically speaking, frost advisories put fall chores at the top of a gardener's mind. But what to do? Is it worth the covering tomatoes? Will the winter squash survive a touch of frost? And what about flowers?

Cornell Cooperative extension horticulturist Amy Ivy sorts through some of the priorities in her weekly conversation with Martha Foley.

(Hints: "maybe" on the tomatoes, "no" on the winters squash's prospects.)

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Martha Foley
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This summary only contains a portion of what’s in the audio interview. For the full interview, click “listen with NCPR player”.

We’ve been flirting with frost, but what hasn’t gotten touched by scattered frost in the last couple of weeks may be looking pretty good.  We’ve had rain, the grass is green, lots of other things are green. Cornell Cooperative Extension horticulturalist Amy Ivy says frost may touch some areas of your garden and not others because of the wind—if an area doesn’t get exposed to wind, it’s actually more likely to get frost because the wind stirs up the warm and cold air.

Some crops need to come in now, Ivy says, before a serious frost hits. These include winter squash, peppers, and tomatoes. Winter squash will keep coloring up once you bring it in, so not to worry if it’s not colored yet.

Things to leave in the garden: carrots and other root vegetables, leaks, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and kale. Ivy says when in doubt, “leave it and see what happens, too. That’s the other thing to think about. I harvested my basil pretty hard, cut it back pretty hard before that cold spell, but it has those lower leaves on it and I did put a sheet over that, too. And I’m hopeful that, since it’s leafy, [and] it doesn’t have to produce a fruit or anything, I think I’m going to get a nice regrowth on there in these next two weeks—we were talking about that spell that you get after the frost.”

As for flowers, some like the cold, and can be left in the garden: These include Petunias, which Ivy says love the cooler weather, Alyssum, and Calendula. Marigolds and Zinnias are not typically cold-loving plants, but Ivy says they’re surviving well in her garden.

“I have this Nicotiana flowering tobacco, and I thought it was going to be more tender than it is, but it’s actually looking especially good right now. It’s really loving this cool moisture. I think it’s the moisture it likes…But, you know, again, just when in doubt, leave it in there.”

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