Protecting your garden from Early Frost

Protecting your garden from Early Frost can extend your growing season by several weeks.  This post will teach you my trick for defeating those first few early season frosts!

How to Protect Your Garden from Early Frost

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It never fails, almost every year we have 2 or 3 nights in late September or early October that reach the low 30’s and leave a frost.  They are usually not really hard frosts but they are enough to ruin the squash plants or nip the tomatoes.  These cold nights are inevitably followed by 2 or 3 weeks of beautiful weather in the 70’s with lows in the 50’s.  Not perfect weather for summer crops but still warm enough to ripen some tomatoes or grow a few more zucchini.  So what do you do to protect your crops from these early light freezes?  In our area it is not worth it to try and put up a hoop house or other structure.  So what is the answer to protecting your garden from early frost?

Floating Row Covers!!
Protecting your garden from Early Frost

Held down by some clips this row cover protects tomato plants well from light frost

Floating row covers are the best solution for protecting your garden from early frost.  Row covers are lightweight blankets usually made from spun-bonded polypropylene.  They are relatively inexpensive to buy and can be found at most garden supply stores or on online.  They can be known by several trade names like Agribon or Remay.  I always buy the heaviest grade sold.  The heavier grades last a lot longer, usually 8 or more seasons of heavy use (I’ve bought some lighter grades that only lasted one or less).

The heavy grades offer from 6 to 8 degrees of frost protection, meaning they can protect down to 26 maybe even 24 degrees for a short time.  These row covers can also serve double duty by adding extra protection in the cold frame later in the winter.  They are rain permeable and let in plenty of light. But the heavier fabrics are not meant to be left on long term.  My suggestion is that if it is going to warm up during the day then you should take your row covers off to let the sun light in!

Protecting your garden from Early Frost 1

Here’s an example of the heavier grade row cover fabric this piece has been used heavily for 6 seasons


Protecting your garden from Early Frost 2

Lighter grade row covers don’t last nearly as long, this cover was used for only a couple of months this spring

A Handy Size

Most of my row covers are cut to about 10 x 8 foot pieces so that they will also fit the cold frames with some over lap.  I simply take them out and throw them over my plants and secure them with a few rocks or attach them to the tomato cages with some clamps.  Although they are not perfect, for early light frost this seems to work well and assure my plants will live to fight (or produce) another day.

protecting your garden from early frost 3

Here’s a good example: the pumpkin plants on the right were under the protection of row covers after our first frost the left side wasn’t protected

protecting your garden from early frost 4

Even after a the heavy frost we had earlier in the week these tomatoes are still doing well under row covers

Of course Floating row covers can be used to great effect on the other side of the gardening year as well by protecting your spring crops from a late frost.  Everyone interested in simple season extension should have plenty of row cover fabric on hand!!  I think every gardener should have at least 4 – 4 x 10 foot pieces on hand.  I seriously don’t know what I did before I bought my fabric row covers (oh wait, yes I do, I used to cover my tomato plants with old bed sheets).  Trust me Floating row covers are one of the handiest things any gardener can have around!!  Buy some today, before the frost comes!!

Would you like to learn more about extending your growing season?  Then please buy my 5 hour video course on Year Round Gardening!  It is at a special price for my readers!  $15 off or only $25!!
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  1. Jody October 21, 2011 5:48 pm Reply

    That looks like it works well. Last fall we resorted to mason jars and grocery store bags. We were doing everything we could think of to keep our early fall plants from succumbing to the late season freezes.

  2. kitsapFG October 22, 2011 12:09 pm Reply

    I keep reemay on my garden supply shelves as a quick cover to use when hard frosts are imminent and I have some more tender crops to protect. I rarely end up using it though as the heavy cold rains we get in the fall are more likely to cause the tender plants to go down than the actual first frosts.

  3. Kristi @HomsteadWishing August 8, 2016 10:48 am Reply

    This is a great reminder! I need to go ahead and buy some row covers. I don’t want everything to die on me! Thanks so much!

  4. Priscilla August 16, 2016 6:15 am Reply

    I have great success using water. If it frosts then the next morning before the sun hits the plants I wash off the frost using my water hose. I have never used row covers etc. Might give it a try.

  5. Akram August 31, 2016 12:00 pm Reply

    I happen to have a huge amount of clear plastic sheets. Can I used them instead ? will they have the same effect ?

    • Mr. Stoney August 31, 2016 3:57 pm Reply

      Yes, BUT . . . the plastic won’t protect down as low as the heaviest row covers. I would imagine (my guess, no science behind this) plastic would give you 2 to 4 degrees of protection vs 6 to 8 with the row cover. So it really just depends on how cold it gets. Great question!!

  6. Homesteading Steve September 20, 2017 9:50 am Reply

    Hey there Mr Stoney

    Yep, things are starting to cool down here in England too, time to frost proof the garden to keep things going a little longer.

    I’ve tried plastic before, by the way, keeps the frost off the plants, but did little to actually prevent the temperatures dropping under the plastic. That said, I’ve found that keeping the frost off is a major part of the story, so it might work for Akram.

    Out of interest, to you do anything in the Spring to try to warm the top soil layer after a cold winter, or just let things happen naturally?



    • Mr. Stoney September 20, 2017 10:17 am Reply

      Great to hear from you! I agree, plastic does keep the frost off but doesn’t do enough in my opinion which is why I use the fabric row covers to protect my plants at night.

      Yes I do try to get the soil warmed up in the spring. Each year one of my 4 x 25 foot beds is covered with a cold frame so that one warms up quick. Additionally I try to warm the soil up using clear plastic sheeting on at least one other bed so that my peas germinate quicker. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about it:

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