The first frost of the season could impact plants in the Ozarks

How a frost hurts plants & tips to reduce the risk
First frost means making sure sensitive plants are protected
Published: Oct. 7, 2022 at 5:20 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - What’s a sure sign that fall is here across the Ozarks? The National Weather Service out of Springfield issued the first frost advisories for some early Saturday morning.

Given how the first frost usually takes place between October 10 and October 14 in the Ozarks, that doesn’t surprise Kelly McGowan, horticulturist at the MU Extension in Greene County.

“This is the first frost of the season,” says McGowan. “That is average for this time of the year.”

That means susceptible plants and vegetation like tomatoes, pumpkins, begonias, spring-blooming trees, summer plants, and summer vegetables won’t be able to withstand the cold air leading to frost or freeze. McGowan says it all comes down to the water inside the plants.

“Whenever we get into a freeze or a frost overnight, what happens is the water that’s actually inside of the plant freezes solid,” says McGowan. That freezing water in the plant cells will cause the cell walls to rupture. “This is what will kill the plant.”

In terms of what you can do to protect any potted and outside household plants, McGowan’s easiest tip is to bring them inside for an excellent reason. “Plants that are in containers - their roots are more exposed to the elements,” McGowan states.

“Those root systems are more susceptible to freeze. They can be brought into the garage or protected area.” For in-ground plants, covering them is also a great idea. “Any kind of material that can be used to put over the plant would be fine,” says McGowan.

Whether a simple material or a dedicated frost-protection cover, a cover can be draped over the plant and taken off the following day. For more singular plants, a bucket or jar made of glass or plastic can also be used as a cover for any potential frost.

For other parts of the Ozarks that aren’t seeing frost advisories yet, additional methods are available to minimize the potential exposure of plants to frost. Any fruit trees or young trees can be wrapped with tree wrap at the trunk. Fruit trees or trees at a young age have thin barks that make them susceptible to cracking with fluctuating temperatures. McGowan also brings up mulching to provide some additional frost protection.

“The concept behind that is the mulch will hold on to any heat that’s in the soil,” McGowan states. “It will allow it to slowly be released at night. It will mainly serve to protect the root system of the plants.”

Another great tip is similar to how solar greenhouses work. McGowan says that these types of greenhouses have large tanks of water inside.

“During the day, the water inside the tanks soaks up heat from the sun,” says McGowan. “At night, it lets out some of that heat just enough to help keep plants from freezing.”

That same strategy can be used with milk jugs full of water that can sit out in the sun and sit near sensitive plants or gardens at night. With cooler temperatures becoming more common, these tips can help minimize your plants’ risk of frost damage.

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