All You Ever Wanted to Know About Frost: Book Review

– Posted in: Book reviews, Things I Love, Weather

Do you know the difference between hoarfrost, black frost, white frost, glazed frost, ground frost, air frost, freezing fog, rime ice, and frozen dew? Did you know that the dewpoint is a factor contributing to whether or not you have frost on “iffy” nights? How many different strategies do you know for extending your growing season?

If you garden in a cold climate and you can’t answer all of the above questions, you’ll want to read A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons. I know I learned quite a few things, including that British and American gardeners call various types of frost by different names.

Philip Harnden has written a thorough treatise on the subject. He starts out, quite appropriately, with getting to know your location and climate. This is basic stuff, but it’s well to review it, because the type of soil and the amount of precipitation you can expect affects the hardiness of your plants. He points out that there’s a difference between one’s usual frost date and one’s average frost date, a distinction that’s lost on many novice gardeners. Number of frost-free days, hardiness zones, and microclimates: if you’ve been gardening up north for more than a year, you probably know about all three–but that’s just the first chapter.

Then the author gets into the real meat of the book: what exactly is frost? Harnden talks about how it is formed, how it damages plants, and how latent heat and air moisture affect its occurence and duration. He kicks it up a notch and applies that information to the planning of the garden itself, covering aspect, exposure, heat reservoirs and air drainage, among other things. Next, he gives you the information and tools needed to become a better predicter of when frost will hit your garden. Finally, the last two chapters are devoted to extending the season, either temporarily, or well into the winter.

To his credit, Harnden never presents frost as The Enemy:

. . . We gardeners needn’t have a siege mentality toward frost. It’s not a villain, holding us hostage in some pitifully short growing season. Jack Frost is simply one more character in this dazzling, sometimes perplexing, and wonderfully rewarding practice we call gardening.

Okay, so it’s not the enemy, but if you’ve spent a whole summer nursing your tomatoes along, only to have them blacken with frost before harvest, you’ll agree it can be frustrating. A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons will give you the understanding you need to make gardening a more gratifying experience.

For your convenience, this book and many others are available through my Amazon store.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Now, the digging and dividing of perennials, the general autumn cleanup and the planting of spring bulbs are all an act of faith. One carries on before the altar of delayed gratification, until the ground freezes and you can’t do any more other than refill the bird feeder and gaze through the window, waiting for the snow. . . . Meanwhile, it helps to think of yourself as a pear tree or a tulip. You will blossom spectacularly in the spring, but only after the required period of chilling.

~Adrian Higgins in The Washington Post, November 6, 2013

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Annie in Austin November 4, 2006, 3:43 pm

When we get frost and freezing weather here in Austin, the cold spells may not last as long as they do in the North, but the arrival of the first frost varies widely both in date and location. MSS and I are not that many miles apart, but we sometimes seem to be in different zones when it comes to temperatures, time of plant dormancy, and time when regrowth begins.

Martin Short is already playing Jack Frost in the new Santa movie – maybe he should get together with Philip Harnden for the DVD of the book.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

Kathy Purdy November 4, 2006, 9:25 am

Cyndy–Being near the river, your climate probably is moderated somewhat by that body of water. We would be more like your neighbor, the first one in the county to get hit by frost. But even on our land, the plants near the little runoff brook have a longer growing season than the rest of our property. And yes, we country folk often reckon people living a couple miles away as our neighbors.

cyndy November 4, 2006, 5:57 am

thanks for the heads up on that book! Frost is a funny thing…my neighbor (well–a few miles away) can have a killing frost, where I can always go several weeks longer without one. I’ve come to find out it’s all because of “location, location, location” 😉

Kathy Purdy November 2, 2006, 7:47 am

MSS–Maybe you should write that book!

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) November 1, 2006, 10:19 pm

Sounds fascinating…like someone describing an alien planet. I wonder if someone will write a complementary book on types of heat for us warm climate gardeners. There’s a lot of differences from Honolulu to LA to Phoenix to Austin to Biloxi.