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Gardening preparations for cold weather

Many plants grown in the garden will be damaged at temperatures below freezing. Watch the weather forecast for temperatures at or below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

Savvy gardeners prepare in advance for possible freezing temperatures by: 

·     Taking cuttings from favorite tomato plants and rooting them in water as “insurance” in case of plant loss from freezing temperatures.

·     Covering soil with a layer of organic mulch* for insulation and moisture retention.

·     Watering regularly, as moist soil helps plants tolerate cold temperatures more easily.

·     Composting (VISTA “Black Gold” compost, Lobster compost, etc.), as soil with sufficient organic matter is more likely to hold heat on cold nights.   

Read more in a blog post by Dr. William Lester, UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County that is also pertinent for Hillsborough County. Cold Protection for Your Central Florida Vegetable Garden - UF/IFAS Extension Hernando County (

We sent photos of our attempts to cover plants at VISTA in 2022 to Hillsborough County UF/IFAS Extension and asked for feedback and guidance. Will Stone’s comments inform us of how to improve these protective covers.

Aa an IFAS Ornamental Horticulture Assistant, Will takes these steps in his home garden:

Trapping heat is key. Using a blanket over a sheet is superior but acquiring enough blankets for your garden would be an impressive task. Sheets work, but you must be willing to accept some damage. You also must be aware that whatever foliage is touching the protective cloth is likely to be damaged. It’s very important to have no gap between the soil and the covering. Also, it’s important to secure the covering to the ground in case of wind.  I have used stakes, bricks, rocks, and pots filled with soil. Really, anything with weight

There are pavers available at VISTA to provide weight. You’ll find them in the common storage area near the retention pond and woodland.

Notice where wind created openings in the photo below. In addition to gathering old blankets, get clothespins or binder clips to connect and secure coverings together.

JoAnn Hoffman, Horticulture Program Assistant, offered:

Vegetable plants that freeze at 32˚F. include beans, cucumbers, eggplant, okra, peppers, squash, and tomatoes, although the foliage of these warm-season veggies can be damaged by above-freezing temperatures in the right situation.

Vegetable plants that are safe down to the upper 20˚F. include beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, collards, onions, kale, radishes, and spinach, although this also depends on “how cold and for how long.” 

In case of a frost warning, gardeners typically pick even unripe vegetables that often ripened successfully indoors.  

Or there are always fried green tomatoes!  They can be made healthier with your favorite corn meal and olive oil.


* Many VISTA gardeners use GROW!T Organic Coco Coir Chips.  Note: We never use the mulch from VISTA’s mulch pile for growing edibles. It is only used to cover the pathways.

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