Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


February 28, 2011

Expect more frosts and freezes

CROSSVILLE — Even though gardeners who have lived through a March or two in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland region should know warm spells peppered with drastically colder days and nights are common here, folks suffering from an extreme winter become very susceptible to spring gardening fever. Don’t catch that bug. A few weeks of sunny 65 degree days are no guarantee there won’t be more frosts and freezes during March and April.

The highest elevations and locations with rougher topography get the wildest of thermal rollercoaster rides at this time of year, but gardeners throughout our state need a plan for late winter/early spring outdoor plant protection in place before purchasing transplants and seed.

When selecting protective coverings to lay over plants, cloth or paper is usually better than plastic. If using plastic, make a “tent” structure to hold sheeting up so it doesn’t touch leaves or flowers. Plastic will “telegraph” frosty temperatures whenever it is in direct contact with tender plant tissues. Overheating is another  problem with un-vented plastic if nighttime coverings are left in place during sunny days. In daytime, under cover plants can get so hot they cook because sunlight converts to solar heat inside the bubble formed by plastic.

Hold off on buying cold-sensitive annuals like geraniums and warm season vegetable transplants like tomatoes and cucumbers. It is wiser (and more economical) to wait until just a week or so before the last frost date to plant tender varieties.

There are many hardier vegetables known as “cool season crops” which include sugar snap peas, beets and Irish potatoes. These crops can stand up to frosts and freezes. Plan to sow seed or put out transplants for them this month.

Gardeners new to growing vegetables can learn which are suitable to cool weather and those that need frost-free conditions and warm soil by downloading the University of Tennessee Extension publication, “PB901 Growing Vegetables in Home Gardens.” Type the link into your Internet browser. 

Cumberland County’s last spring frost typically occurs on May 10 in the Crossville area. (Use Mother’s Day as a memory cue as to when to put out heat-loving transplants.) Micro-climates may cause variations in the Frost Free Date within each county’s borders. Expect later frosts at the highest elevations which tend to be colder and also in low places where cool air settles forming what are known as “frost pockets.”

Mid-March to mid-April is the spring window of opportunity for seeding new cool season lawns, renovating a lawn of that type or applying pre-emergence crabgrass prevention. Crabgrass and other annual weedy grasses die back in winter then grow from seed in springtime. Crabgrass controls stop those seeds from germinating. Yellow blossoms on forsythia shrubs are a good indicator of the right time to spread the first pre-emergent treatment. Do not apply to areas that were/will be seeded for turf grass this spring.

Warm sunny March days are perfect for checking the condition of lawn and garden equipment, inspecting perennial plants, trees and shrubs for winter damage and/or shopping for supplies. Spring cleanup is another essential outdoor gardening task to do this month.


Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for those tending home landscapes and gardens in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) has answers for horticulture questions, free publications and details on how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, 


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