I live in a cold climate

– Posted in: Miscellaneous
16 comments
It got cold last night

What I saw this morning
[Photographer: Kathy Purdy]

Just in case there’s anyone reading this who doesn’t yet understand what a cold climate is (I’ve had Australian searchers looking for “hardy plants” arrive at this site), I thought I’d give an illustration. When I got up about an hour earlier, the outdoor temperature was 36 degrees F (that’s 2 degrees C for you Australians–and the rest of the world). Checking my electronic gadget’s memory, I learn that the low was 35.8 degrees F at 5:47am.

At dinner last night everyone was remarking on what perfect weather we had had that day, and how we could take a whole summer like it. I remember it being sunny with just a slight breeze, but I didn’t look at the thermometer. Fortunately another member of our family diligently checks the gadget’s memory each evening and records the highs and lows. That’s why I can tell you that the high yesterday was a toasty 67 degrees F (19 degrees C). (No, we don’t have a swimming pool–or central air conditioning.)

It doesn’t happen every year, but it’s happened enough years that we’re on our guard: frost the first week in June. Talitha, the chief vegetable gardener, had started planting the tomatoes (after all, a week ago it was in the high 80s and low 90s) in the ground, so they’ve been covered with a sheet the last two nights. The basil and peppers, as well as the hot weather annuals like zinnias, were still in pots and were brought into the house for these two questionable nights. Mind you, the weatherman hadn’t been predicting frost, just low 40s. But our own rule of thumb is to subtract ten degrees from what they predict for the low, especially if it’s a clear night and the temperature seems to be dropping fast.

These warm season crops can be stunted by soil or air temperatures that are too cold, even if they don’t get down to freezing. Tomatoes can be injured by temperatures below 50 degrees F. For basil, I think their growth is stunted below 60 degrees F, but I can’t find a website that comes right out and says that. The point is, frost will kill these warm-season crops, but unseasonably cool weather can be just as detrimental to their growth.

Of course, weather that’s too hot can cause blossom drop and other heat related injuries. The whole point of living here is so I don’t have to concern myself with heat related problems of any type–vegetable, animal, or mineral. I tend to feel mighty persecuted if the temperature goes above 90, especially if the humidity is high, which it almost invariably is. My thinking is, “I paid my dues last winter; this is a violation of some unspoken contract. I want my money back!” Sulking never seems to change the weather, but I keep trying.

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.

In the end, this may be the most important thing about frost: Frost slows us down. In spring, it tempers our eagerness. In fall, it brings closure and rest. In our gotta-go world–where every nanosecond seems to count–slowness can be a great gift. So rather than see Jack Frost as an adversary, you could choose to greet him as a friend.

~Philip Harnden in A Gardener’s Guide to Frost: Outwit the Weather and Extend the Spring and Fall Seasons

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Kathy Purdy June 19, 2007, 8:02 pm

There have been years where we’ve had a very dry period in the summer, and then get a good rain towards fall when the nights are getting cool again. I’ve had plants act like they were going through a second spring, blooming again when in a normal year they wouldn’t. So maybe something similar happened with that tomato plant, except temperature being the trigger instead of moisture. And I know you would agree that we don’t know everything there is to know about tomatoes–or any plant for that matter.

M Sinclair Stevens (Texas) June 19, 2007, 3:45 pm

I’m still confused about the tomato thing. I was thinking about it this morning when I picked a handful of tomatoes off that cherry tomato I planted last fall. I covered it during our freezes (if the temps were going to be in the 20s overnight) but didn’t on our last freeze in late February. It froze. Later when I was going to pull it out I noticed that the stem was green. So I just cut it back.

I have lots of perennials that die to the ground and resprout in the spring. This tomato did just that. All the tomatoes have been slow to ripen this year because of our oddly cool spring. But my frozen cherry tomato has been keeping pace with the plants I put out in March. I don’t see any difference at all.

Talitha June 15, 2007, 6:01 pm

There was one year not too long ago where my brother was scraping frost of his windshield on June 30th. . .but these cold nights don’t rule out hot days. It’s not all that unusual for us to have nights dipping into the low fifties and days skimming the bottom of 90 or higher.

Shirley June 15, 2007, 12:42 pm

We’re cold-weather gardeners too, and this year has been great because so far (and it’s getting too late now) we have not had a frost after we planted the tomatoes. Last year we weren’t so lucky and had to cover the entire garden several times, but we’re used to it! Nice site….

Kathy Purdy June 12, 2007, 1:24 pm

Well, my hand-me-down GPS says right outside the door we are 1,059 ft. (but it says accuracy is 20%) and then our property goes uphill from there.

The Red Scot June 12, 2007, 9:22 am

What is your elevation?

Kathy Purdy June 8, 2007, 6:33 am

Carol and Ellis Hollow–I am still searching for a comprehensive source of information on chill injury. You would think some northern extension service would have a website page devoted to it, but I didn’t find it using the search terms “chill injury” and “vegetables.”

Lost Roses–check the fine print when you go shopping for a weather instrument. As I stated when I got mine, not all wireless thermometers go down as far as we cold climate residents need them to go down. I settled on one that only went down to minus 22 degrees F, and it’s only bottomed out a few times since 2003.

LostRoses June 7, 2007, 10:52 pm

I just heard our weatherman on the evening news warning us to cover our tender annuals and tomatoes. The weather is a crapshoot until we get deep into June, and we aren’t there yet.

I love your thermometer and thanks for the links, I think I’ll finally order one of those. If nothing else, to satisfy my curiousity over whether I really had to “cover” those crops!

Carol June 7, 2007, 5:49 pm

Kathy, I read or heard that tomatoes don’t grow below 59.6 degrees, or something like that. I hope you don’t get a frost. That would be cruel, as cruel as temperatures in the 90’s!

I don’t know how you do it… lots of sweaters and sweathshirts, I guess.

Ellis Hollow June 7, 2007, 5:11 pm

It was cold over here in balmy Ithaca, too, Kathy. When I got up, it was 38F and change on the electronic thermometer here at the house. But the vegetable garden downslope is usually 3 to 5 degress colder.

I had everything covered with buckets and pots. It all survived, but like you I worry about other effects of non-killing cold on warm-season crops.

Kathy Purdy June 7, 2007, 4:25 pm

Jane–I have seen the same thing happen at our place. You can look at the weather radar online, and it’s raining everywhere except over our place. Annoying when it happens once, scary when it happens repeatedly over the season.

Pam–you pay your dues during the summer. I was bowled over by the flowers you Texans are growing when we’re buried in snow. And we would never, ever have narcissus and roses blooming at the same time.

Marie–I’m with you. These recent weather changes don’t make me sulk. I expect them. It’s high temps and humidity that I think are unfair.

Marie FKA Piana Nanna June 7, 2007, 3:32 pm

Call me a Pollyanna, but I love the changes in the weather. I don’t care if it’s blue skies or gray, which we have often here. Today it’s 88.5 but last night was only in the low 50s. That means open windows at night and no air conditioning and it also means right now the house is 15 degrees cooler than it is outside. That’s why I love where I live even though we complain about winter. But one thing I can’t tolerate is humidity. That makes me terribly grumpy 🙁

Pam/Digging June 7, 2007, 3:20 pm

I’m bowled over by the notion of a frost in June, Kathy.

We’ve had a decently cool spring, and it’s only been in the 90s for a week or so—very late for the hot part of the world that I live in. I know that we don’t have to pay our dues when it’s winter, as you do, but I do still tend to sulk when August and September creep along with highs in the 90s and 100s. I need to be a snowbird, I guess!

Lina June 7, 2007, 11:07 am

I’ am sulking too. I live in Iceland and we had a very cold May. June has been disapointing so far. Storm and rain. But things are looking up…

Jane June 7, 2007, 10:15 am

I’m sulking too. Not about frost – just rain, which it seems like everyone got but me. Here at latitude 53 (zone 3) there were frost warnings for some surrounding communities last night, but no problem in the city. However, my rainbarrel is empty and the garden is very dry and Tuesday night there was a massive storm west, northwest and south of the city (including hail, flooding and a tornado) but all I got was a light sprinkle of rain. Not that I wanted hail or a tornado, but a bit more rain would have been nice.

Genie June 7, 2007, 9:18 am

Kathy, I am a total weather-sulker, so I understand. It doesn’t change anything, but it is, somehow, comforting. Or something. Thanks for the info about temps and plants — that is interesting. It was kind of cool here yesterday (not cold, by any stretch, but cool), and I was having an internal dialog wondering some of that exact info — at what point does the garden get too cold for its own good? Here’s hoping you don’t end up with a June frost this year. Brr…