How to protect your garden during extreme weather conditions

According to the Farmers Almanac, El Nino continues to bring milder temperatures which may alter our gardens.That doesn’t mean we need to give up the joys of gardening — it simply means we’ll need to adjust accordingly.

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Laura Watt, owner of Cubit’s Seed Company, has been gardening for over 14 years and is no stranger to all kinds of garden-damaging weather. She notes that many people are still growing greens and root vegetables right in their gardens with some preparation, like cold frames (a small unheated greenhouse — a cold frame is heated by the sun and will be warmer than the air outside. It’s ideal for plants like pots of bulbs and plants that need just a bit of protection from the cold) and row covers, may be needed.

“The weather may be unpredictable but there’s no reason not to take advantage of it and grow some kale and arugula right now. The late frost this year was really helpful to farmers and gardeners who could wait a few extra weeks before harvesting crops such as carrots and beets,” she explains.

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Watt says choosing local heirloom varieties is a great way to ensure a healthy crop. The varieties that have been grown locally will always fare better than ones from other climates. Ask your neighbours what they are growing and swap some seeds.

According to Watt, hardy greens like kale, chard and bolt-resistant lettuces are great things to grow that will survive fluctuations in weather and frost. Kale will survive heat waves and continue growing in snow. Root vegetables like carrots or beets are safe in the ground once you get them going. Fall radishes are wonderful addition to any garden.

“We are always at the mercy of the weather. Paying attention to the forecast and acting fast if bad weather is coming can save your garden.” She also suggests that you cover delicate plants with blankets or row covers, bring potted plants inside or under shelter, and mist your garden with water in the case of frost.

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Taking more precaution than normal will also ensure a successful harvest. Using row covers, low tunnels, cold frames and hoop houses will extend your season: You can start earlier and leave plants in the ground longer, she suggests. Alternatively, ignore the outdoors for now.

“Growing inside means having great lights and warmth as well and space constraints. You have full control over the growing conditions which is both helpful and high pressure.”

According to Larry Hodgson, a garden writer, author and garden tour leader living in Quebec City, it’s important to look for plants in your hardiness zone (there are maps of Canadian hardiness zones you could use). Hardy plants like perennials, shrubs, conifers and trees — if chosen according to the local hardiness zone — are the best bets in Canada. They’ll usually recover eventually from inclement weather. Annuals are less likely to recuperate when unexpected cold hits.

As a seasoned gardener, Hodgson is far less concerned with snow than he is with hail and overnight frost. “Snow itself is rarely damaging. Off-season snow tends to melt fairly rapidly and causes little damage. I’ve even seen it cover my tomato plants (and tomato plants are very fragile to cold) and disappear without doing any damage,” he explains. But he cautions that you need to be mindful of below-freezing temperatures. Frost can severely damage or kill many plants.

Hodgson says when expecting frost, you cover plants overnight (when frost usually hits) with newspaper or an old blanket or simply turn on a sprinkler (moving water rarely freezes). Hail can occur in any season and isn’t linked to cold temperatures, nor can you prepare for it. It can tear leaves, knock fruit off, etc.

“There is nothing you can do other than clean up afterwards and hope for the best. In some cases, the damage is so severe the plant doesn’t recover, and the ones that do usually have visible damage for the rest of the season.”


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