(WVNS) — It is nearly that time of year when the bees start buzzing, birds start chirping, and the urge to start planting really takes hold. However, some caution to our eager gardeners as our region runs the risk of frost and freeze damage through much of April.
According to the Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nation (FAO) when it comes to frost and freeze, some plants and crops handle the cold much better than others. However, for many plants, the difference between frost damage and crop death can be as little as a couple of degrees.
When overnight lows dip below 40 degrees, the potential for frost becomes real for our region. Even at 36 degrees, frost can develop in some of our deeper valley’s thanks to a combination of still winds and dense cold air settling in the lowest spot. Think of cold air like water, it’ll always find the lowest point to pool.
Even for places like Beckley, 36 degrees on a thermometer isn’t the coldest temp found in the area. Most thermometers sit about 3-6 feet off the ground meaning the coldest air settles below the sensor. For this reason, our graph above will start to track cold nights of 40 degrees or below.
For gardeners getting their plants ready for a healthy and productive year, seedlings are very susceptible to frost while more mature plants can handle the cold better. However, plants with flowers on them right before fruit can be damaged by the same temperature those without flowers can handle. It’s also a good idea to see where your plants are in their development when frost risks return to the forecast.
In general, most areas follow a hardiness or growing zone and for our region, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), we vary in zones. While not an exact science, seasonal averages gives us a better idea of when our last frost of the season typically happens. For a more exact map for your neighborhood, visit the USDA’s Hardiness Zone Map. It’s also important to take into account ground temperatures. Several warm days are needed to warm the soil to planting depth. The air may be above freezing, but the soil 6 inches down may not be.
Referring back to an FAO report on frost and freeze damage for crops, the following is a list of popular items grown in West Virginia and Virginia on a scale from most to least at risk of frost. Those most at risk should be protected from frost by covering or bringing inside. Those least at risk may only need protection when temps drop into the upper 20s depending on where they are in their development.
This group from cucumbers to strawberries hate the cold and will need a lot of attention when temperatures dip into the low to mid 30s. By 25 degrees, 90% of your crop may succumb to the cold.
This group from apples to spinach can handle colder night, but not by much. When temps dip into the mid to low 30s, extra care will be needed for their survival.
Beets to turnips fare well in cold weather but even when temps drop into the low 30s, some care is needed for them. If temps dip into the 20s, crop death increases with a total loss at 20 degrees or colder.
Flowers are equally susceptible to the cold but some do better than others. Cornflowers, pansies, primrose and violets do well in cold but by 22 degrees, irreversible damage can occur.
While this group is a little forgiving, there isn’t much room for error as frost at 28 degrees can damage these flowers and a freeze of just 24 degrees can kill them.
If you have these in your garden plans this year, keep a special eye on the thermometers as this group isn’t a big fan of cold nights.
Any mention of frost or freeze, just go ahead and cover this group as these are the most sensitive flowers to have in your early spring gardens.
Of course, no matter what your plans are for this spring and summer crops, the StormTracker 59 team will be keeping a close eye on those thermometers for you and your garden. See the latest frost threats with your 10 day forecast.