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How to save outdoor plants during Colorado’s late-spring freeze and snow

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A late-season snowstorm across Colorado from Friday into Saturday is expected to bring heavy, wet snow in excess of 6 inches. That has many wondering if there's any way to save their outdoor plants and flowers from dying.

Daniel Hopper, co-owner of Rick's Garden Center in Colorado Springs has some tips for protecting tender plants and flowers. He says if you've already planted, don't give up hope on your garden.

"There is hope," said Hopper. "That's not to say that you're not going to lose any plants, like your tender perennials, possibly, or your squash or tomatoes or peppers if you planted those."

The main tool for protecting plants is a frost cloth.

"If you can cover them with frost cloth, a blanket, something like that, to capture some of the ground heat and keep them above freezing, that's going to help them out."

While any protection is better than none, Hopper recommends frost cloths over tarps.

"The benefit of the frost blanket is, it allows some breathing so you don't get a buildup of moisture," said Hopper. "If all you have is a tarp, by all means, use it. If all you have is a blanket, by all means, use that. But the benefit of the frost cloth is, it does allow some moisture to transpire through that cloth so it's not just collecting in a damp, dark environment on the plant where you could get botrytis or other fungi."

Another tool is placing a bucket or a garden cloche directly over individual vegetable plants. A cloche will allow light into the plant since it's transparent, and also has a vent for moisture.

"For deciduous trees and shrubs, if you planted them, make sure they're well watered in 3 to 5 gallons of water," said Hopper. "Don't just rely on the water that's falling out of the sky. Also, make sure they're well mulched-in. That helps the trees and shrubs pull up ground heat into the branches, stems, and trunk. You may get some dieback, you may lose some leaves, but those trees should recover."

There are some common mistakes people make when it comes to trying to protect their plants. One major mistake is not using stakes to prop up your frost cloth.

"If you are covering your plants, you want to make sure that your frost cloth, blanket, whatever you're using to cover them, is not in contact with the plants," said Hopper. "Also, if it's accumulating snow on top of it, make sure you're not allowing that blanket or whatever covering them, to crush your plants."

Hopper says another major mistake gardeners make, is giving up on their plants.

"After the storm is passed, don't just assume that if it looks like it's dead, that it is dead," said Hopper. "Give it some time. See if it will recover. A lot of times plants will do that. They look dead, and then they will bounce back."

It's not recommended to dig up your outdoor plants and then bring them inside from the cold.

"It would depend on what kind of plant it is, but if it's a pepper, tomato, or squash, I would recommend covering them as opposed to digging them up," said Hopper. "It's traumatic for plants to dig them up and then replant them. You're better off, in my opinion, leaving them in the ground and covering them as best you can."

Once the temperature gets above freezing, it's best to take off any plant coverings and let them air out.

"They should definitely take off the blanket when it gets above freezing or above the temperature threshold for that plant," said Hopper. "So if it gets above 40 degrees, they should uncover those plants, allow them to get sunlight, allow them to breathe, but then make sure they're recovering if it gets cold again."

Hopper also notes, that certain plants are more sensitive to the weather changes and should have more protection.

"Most of your annuals are going to be more delicate," said Hopper. "Though, there are some annuals like geraniums that are frost tolerant. Of course, your pansies, and things like that are delicate. Your vegetables that are not cold crops. So like your tomatoes, your peppers, your other nightshades, and squash, those won't survive a frost. You would need to either bring them inside or if you've already planted them, then you're going to want to cover them up."

Overall, Hopper says while these late-season freezes can be discouraging, people shouldn't give up on their gardens.

"A lot of us have been planting in Colorado for a long time, and yeah, it's challenging," said Hopper. "There's no doubt about it. But I would just say, don't get too discouraged. These are kind of the hoops you have to jump through when you're in a mountain environment. But, you know, people have been planting around here for a long, long time, and it is possible to do it. So I would just say, don't give up hope."

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Mallory Anderson

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1 Comment

  1. As a long time gardener, some framing structure can keep snow from crushing plants, don’t let plastic/tarps touch them(as the cold is too easily transmitted to leaves, plants) but use Some fabric or even a dry, size-appropriate cardboard box, as a buffer to any plastic/tarps.

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