Stillwater News Press

March 31, 2012

In the Garden 04-01-12

By LeeAnn Barton Special to the NewsPress
Stillwater NewsPress

— With such an unseasonably warm March, many fear April will bring the fooled-you frost. Here are some simple solutions to protect your plantings from an unexpected turn in the weather.

Season extenders trap warmth. Although the highest degree of protection comes from hot beds or cold frames — low-profile structures built to shelter seedlings — these structures may be overkill for the average hobby gardener. For those with greater commitment, here’s a quick how-to.

Find a sunny place in the yard, preferably facing south and construct a simple frame that tapers from 8 inches to 4 inches on the sides positioning the highest side on the north. Old windows or other transparent material is then laid flat or hinged to the frame creating a miniature, makeshift greenhouse — a cold frame.

On warm days the windows are opened to allow air circulation and easy access to the tender plants. Lock in the warm air by closing the top at night.

Hot beds not only draw warmth from the sun, they also provide warmth from beneath the plants. The outer structure will be identical to a cold frame, but the soil is prepared differently.

To build a hotbed, remove soil in a determined area to a depth of 18 inches. Refill the bed with 12 inches of fresh manure. Top the hot manure with 4-6 inches of soil. You may then start seed directly or nestle small pots into the soil. Added protection comes from the upward radiating heat.

Most home veggie gardens can achieve similar results on a smaller scale by protecting individual plants. Water holds warmth and is the key to the season extender called wall of water. Vertical tubes of clear poly sheeting encircle the plant. Each tube is filled with water that traps and holds the sun’s warmth in a cozy teepee shape. This product, with care, can be reused next spring.

Hot caps or cloches offer minimal protection and vary in material and price. Heavy paper, hard plastic or glass bells about a foot tall are placed over each seedling. Clear, two-liter soda bottles with the bottoms removed will serve the same purpose. Take off the twist-on cap to allow hot air to escape.

Or try wrapping an inverted tomato cage with a sheet of large bubble wrap, securing the cage in place with landscape staples. Don’t be afraid to experiment; that’s half the fun of gardening.

LeeAnn Barton, Stillwater, can be emailed at