Greenspace: Last frost could be later than you think

Jim Hillibish

I get a lot of queries from you as to when the frost-free date is here. I usually answer,  “It’s a dangerous guess.”

If you must know, May 17 is our date in Canton, Ohio, but this is a 100-year average. Weather hereabouts is almost never average. You’re definitely rolling the dice on May 17.

My gardening diary shows frost-free dates as early as mid-April and as late as mid-June. I remember that late freeze, known as the summer without tomatoes.

The reason for this is unpredictable weather is we have two contradictory sources of springtime conditions. They are the balmy breezes of the southwest that follow low-pressure fronts. These bring warmth and rain from the Gulf Coast.

Our cold, and possible frost, comes the heels of Canadian high pressure that started in the arctic circle settling through from the north. These create the windless, clear-night skies that result in heavy frosts just before sunrise.

If you need more convincing that early is dangerous, consider that our average growing season (between killer frosts in spring and fall) over 30 years has stretched from 136 to 184 days.  That shows you the danger we face planting early.

Garden center owners tell us the big planting weekend always is around Memorial Day. Some say more than 80 percent of our stuff goes in then.

That’s pretty smart. Frosts after May 30 are rare although possible.

If you cannot resist the urge, there are plants that will survive the frost. With some, they improve with frost. In the vegetable world, these include peas, cabbage, potatoes, lettuce, radishes, spinach, garlic, onions, chives. They can be planted now.

Some summer flower bulbs can go in now and will bloom well after the frost. They include callas, cannas, dahlias, and gladiolus.

Among annuals, folks have a lot of fun with the early pansies that will survive a snowfall. Get the winter variety.

If you want really early color, even before the daffodils and tulips, this fall plant acronite, Glory of the Snow, scilla, Snow Crocus and snowdrop bulbs. Daylilies and peonies also are frost resistant.

It’s always fun taking a chance on an early tomato, pepper and bean crop. Having the first tomato is a thing of pride. Just don’t go overboard and bet the whole crop before May 30.

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