Garden Season Extenders
Season Extenders are wonderful tools that allow gardener's to enjoy their
hobby a month or two longer, spring and fall. In the spring, gardeners are
chomping at the bit to get out into the garden and plant something, anything.
Getting the jump on the season, and your neighbor, is every gardener's late
winter dream. In the fall, Jack Frost sometimes visits before our final crops
are ready to harvest. A true gardener can't allow something like a little
frost to ruin those final roses, or keep those pumpkins from ripening.
Enter the world of gardening season extenders. They can be anything from
a simple piece of plastic or an old blanket thrown on the tomato plants on
a frosty fall evening, to a walk-in greenhouse that allows you to start gardening
a couple months before anyone else in the 'hood. Let's explore them all.........
For the serious gardener, a greenhouse is the perfect solution. They come
in a huge range of styles to fit your need and budget.
Basic types are:
Walk-in, permanently placed- These look superb in the back yard. They
are every avid gardener's dream. Permanent greenhouses have venting systems
and optional heating systems, to allow you to use the greenhouse 2-3 months
longer, in both spring and fall. In some areas, they can be used year round.
Walk-in, movable- Growing in popularity, these portable greenhouses
are less expensive than a permanent greenhouse. And, they can be folded up
(or dis-assembled quickly), and stored away when not in use.
Hobby Greenhouse Systems- These greenhouses consist of a raised bed
and a fitted, latched cover system. Your garden season begins a month or
so before the last frost, and extends fall gardening. It's easy to put on
or take off the cover system. They are perfect for small areas, limited
budgets, and people who don't want a big walk-in greenhouse. Attractive
in appearance, they scream "an avid gardener lives here" to friends and
Hoop House- A hoop house is made of PVC tubing anchored to the ground
to form a half circle. Plastic sheeting is secured over the tubing and on
the ends. It makes for a great temporary greenhouse, and is inexpensive.
Plastic sheeting usually requires frequent replacement. It's not as attractive
as other options, and is mostly used on farms.
Coldframes are really popular for a much earlier start on the season.
Keep tender, young seedlings cozy warm, and provide them with more sunlight
than they get indoors. The are also used to "harden off" indoor transplants".
In some areas, they are used to overwinter container bound plants and shrubs.
More on Cold Frames
Hot Caps, or "Hot Kaps" (also spelled: hotcap or hotkap) protect young seedlings
from frost. They are quickly placed over tender annuals quickly, when frosts
or cold evenings are in the forecast. Unless they have holes in the top for
venting, they must be removed in the morning, before sunlight raises temperatures
inside the hotcap to levels dangerous to your seedlings. While they are
inexpensive, they provide protection against frost, not extended periods
of freezing weather. The plants often quickly outgrow the size of the hotcaps.
Tip: Make sure hotcaps are stackable, so they can be stored in a small
space for next year's use.
This group includes Frost Jackets and Wall O'Water, also called a "Garden
Tepee". A Frost Jacket is part hot cap, part miniature greenhouse. Set a
Frost Jacket around a plant and fill it with water. It absorbs heat from
the sun during the day, and releases it at night. It can stay around the
plant all season long, or be removed after the last spring frost. Because
of it's heating quality, it is better than a hot cap, and can give your plants
an even earlier start. It is a great way to get a jump on the season.
Frost Jackets are used weeks before the last spring frost.
An unexpected frost catch you off-guard? Something as simple as a
large plastic drinking cup can be placed over small tomato or pepper seedling.
If the plant is too big, try a five gallon bucket!
Need to protect a long row of plants from a late frost? Or, do you want to
start a row of vegetables a couple weeks early? A cloche may be the answer.
A cloche is a mini "Hoop House", standing one to three feet high at the center
of the row. A series of tubing, usually PVC, is hooped every couple of feet
along the row. Plastic sheeting is placed over the hoops. The ends are covered
during cold weather, and uncovered on warm days. It offers inexpensive frost
protection, and allows a few weeks' head start for your plants. It is removed
as warm weather arrives.
Cloches are popular around the world for early starts of a variety of vegetables
and tender annuals.
When frost is in the forecast, just about anything will do for a quick cover
up. The object is to cover your plants, so moisture in the air does not form
on the plant's leaves and freeze as the temperatures drop to 32 degrees or
For covering large areas, a plastic sheet, a bed sheet, or a blanket will
do. These items are lightweight, as you don't want to crush the plant's leaves.
Commercially, you can buy inexpensive row covers. These items are commonly
used in the fall to extend the season beyond the first killing frost. A little
effort can be very "fruitful" as vegetable prices rise at local stores as
soon as the first frost hits.
Tip: Light-weight cover-ups need to be anchored to keep the wind from
blowing them off your plants.