Monday, December 6, 2010

Cover 'Em Up

Whew, it's cold out there! I just got back inside from watering and my feet are freezing ... which of course is my own fault since I'm in shorts and barefoot, but still. It's cold.

This past weekend's cold snap wasn't much to worry about, but I think tonight and tomorrow are expected to be rather colder. I even heard the dreaded F-word for the inland areas. (If you're wondering, the word is "frost."). Tomatoes do fine to about 50ºF. Below that, they'll stop setting fruit until it warms back up. The 40s can be tricky—a few hours dipping into the 40s won't really hurt your plants, but they're not going to love it much.

But the 30ºs can be a real issue. This is when you can start seeing cold damage on your plants in the form of brown leaves (anybody remember this from last year? Warning: it's graphic.) And freezing (the other other F-word), of course, can be a disaster.

So ... judging from the fact that we're supposed to hit the upper 30s or lower 40s over the next few nights, and the wind chill can make that even worse, it makes sense to take a few precautions:

  • Water deeply in the evening. Hose water in South Florida comes out the tap in the mid-60s, and it will protect your plants' roots. This is especially important for container-grown plants, which don't have the insulating benefit of the earth.
  • Cover them with sheets. It doesn't have to be an airtight seal, but a sheet will help shield the plant from the wind, trap radiant heat from the ground, and in the very worst-case scenario, protect the plant's leaves from frost (which will cover the sheet, not the tender leaves).
  • Move 'em inside if you can. If you only have a pot or two, and that pot is on wheels or you just happen to be extremely strong, and you have a garage or covered patio, drag the plant up into shelter. Personally, I can't do this--too many plants, too large of pots--so you know, don't rub it in if you can.
Hopefully, the weather people will be wrong. Not a lot. Just a little. Four or five degrees would be nice. And let's be honest—it wouldn't be the first time they'd blown a call.


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I was wondering if I did the right thing by bringing my tomatoes inside tonight. I would hate to damage my plants before I even had a chance to harvest some tomatoes!

  2. I am in Miami and I was just wondering how your plants did with the cold further up the road. I have a very modest set up (Better Boys & Romas in containers) so thankfully I was able to lug the bins inside for yet another night. Let's hope for a mild, "average" winter ahead :)

    On another topic, looking ahead to spring- have you had any experience with a good heat-tolerant variety? As a transplanted northerner I was very confused when my tomato plants didn't set fruit in the summer...

    Thanks for the blog! Your garden looks amazing, best of luck.

  3. Hi Anon ... thanks for dropping by.

    My plants were fine last night. There was no frost in northern Broward, near the water, so the plants seemed pretty unfazed. I'm going to cover and water again tonight, then hope it warms up. For one thing, I hate wearing socks. What can I say?

    I've never really tried to grow tomatoes in the dead heat of summer, although I'll push the season as far into May as I can. I've grown Homestead 24s before, and they were very robust plants that had no real disease problems. You can also check out Bella Rosa (I've grown some beautiful Bella Rosas very late in the season) and I hear that Florida 91 VFFs are also heat-tolerant. The knock on heat-resistant tomatoes is that they don't taste very good ... and I guess I'd have to agree that they don't really have the same complexity of flavor as some of the yummier cold-set varieties. But they're still home-grown tomatoes, so how bad can it really be?

    Finally, cherry tomatoes (check out Sweet 100s or Sun Gold) are good for hotter weather. They seem to handle it better than bigger-fruited varieties.

    And I hear you on the transplanted northerner thing. I'm from up there somewhere too, and now when I go home, I don't recognize hardly ANY of the plants they use up there. It's very weird. (And I'm jealous of their big vegetable gardens that seem completely free of the fungal and bacterial diseases that drive us crazy.)

    Good luck tonight.