The Importance of Frost Tolerant Plants

– Posted in: Garden Design

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

It was springtime. The most difficult of times when the sun in the sky and the warm breeze said yes, but the calendar still said May 15th. Mid May is the commonly accepted frost free date here in the Delaware Valley. The date that most adventurous gardeners confidently bring out their half hardy and tender plants to offer up the sacrifical alter that is the garden. Not me.

It was a few years back, around 1997. On a clear still night, May 22nd, to be exact, that my new display of tender plants was frosted, killed to the ground.Through a combination of a few items still tucked away inside and the generosity of some of our local institutions that opened their doors and greenhouses to me, I was able to re-establish a display for that season.

Since that time,  I still respect the 23rd. I smile when visitors to the garden say “We’re safe now” as mid May passes. I now employ frost tolerant tender plants for the opening act at Chanticleer. Plants such as Cordyline ‘Red Sensation’ for color and form, Cycas revoluta, the primitive cycad again for its amazing form and texture. Many of the bromeliads are remarkably frost tolerant, some conditioning leading up to the test. Eucalyptus and agaves lend a glaucus or bluish cast as well as adding mass and presence to a young garden.

As the fear of frost passes, these plants can remain in their places. More familiar cool season annuals will play off of these interesting elements in the beds. Or if your prefer, they can be lifted and moved to other situations in the garden, as root development in this short stay is usually non-existent due to cool soils and recent installation.

Remember, respect the frost. Know who your true friends are and work all of the plants that you have at hand to best convey your style in the garden.

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Nancy Bond June 3, 2008, 9:01 pm

Even though our last expected frost date is May 16, it wouldn’t be unheard of to have a light frost even in the first days of June. You’re right — you should be respectful of the frost.

Lisa at Greenbow June 3, 2008, 10:34 pm

The dreaded frost date can be so fickle as to when it might be. One must be respectful.

Gail June 4, 2008, 6:57 am

Our last frost date is April 15… Southern Gardeners don’t believe it for a minute and have sheets on hand to drape the plants for what the weather forecasters gleefully refer to as Dogwood Winter or Blackberry Winter. But even sheets can’t protect the tenderest of plants from freezing…I especially like you concluding paragraph…respect nature, know your friends and convey your style!

lawremc June 4, 2008, 9:27 am

Like Gail–I’m a Southern gardener. I don’t even think about setting out tender annuals until the end of April. This yeat a late cold snap near the the end of March did a number on our peach crop in Alabama.

Pam/Digging June 4, 2008, 1:11 pm

Austin’s last average frost date is March 3, but it’s best to wait until mid-March to be safe. That can be hard to remember during our often balmy late-February days.

Charlotte June 5, 2008, 8:36 pm

Here in Montana the official last frost date is May 17, but the general practice is no tomatoes in the ground until Memorial Day. This year it’s been so cold and rainy (and hail-y) that I only put the tomatoes out in Wall o’Water’s last weekend, and the peppers and eggplants are *still* in the cold frames. Or to put things in another perspective, I have grape hyacinths, tulips, bleeding hearts, daisies and blue flax all blooming at the same time.

Joy June 6, 2008, 1:35 pm

The logical side of my garden brain gets that bit .. YES ! respect the frost !
The emotional gardener who loves going out on a limb to get a jump on the season .. heck no ! i must have all the plants I can muster as soon as I can muster them !! LOL
BIG sigh : )

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