In Northwest Florida gardeners are fortunate since it is possible to grow ample supplies of vegetables throughout the winter months. While the Florida Panhandle does receive the occasional hard freeze, many winter vegetables such as radish, onion, lettuce, carrot and the various cole crops, can easily withstand mild freezes.
When a hard freeze occurs, defined by temperatures that dip below 28°F for over five hours, it is important to be prepared with frost cloth, cotton sheets or other suitable material. Frost cloth is a good option since it protects plants from morning frosts while still allowing for a little air transfer. It is a synthetic fabric which offers 4-8 degrees of protection and is available through many online greenhouse and agricultural suppliers. Old cotton sheets, often found at thrift stores for very low cost, offer good protection from frost damage. With both of these products, ensure that the coverage extends completely to ground level with no gaps, to not allow cold air to infiltrate from the bottom.
While these methods will not provide enough protection to allow summer vegetables to be grown during winter months, it can be beneficial in reducing frost and freeze damage to winter vegetable crop.
Do not use plastic covers, since they radiate cold and heat more readily. Even if they protect the plants from the cold, they can quickly trap heat in when the sun rises and “cook” the plants.
Additionally, it is important to keep vegetables well-watered at all times, but this is especially true during frost events since moist soil holds more heat. Healthy, appropriately watered plants withstand cold stress at greater rates.
Happy gardening over the Holiday Season!
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