NDSU Extension - Ramsey County


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September 30, 2013 Horticulture Column

Gardening in your yard!!!

What a beautiful weekend and Monday.  Fall is here though as temperatures in the mornings and evening cool very quickly and does remind us that winter is approaching.  The forecast is talking about the possibility of a frost later in the week so I include some info on preparing some of our gardening activities in frost protect mode.

Jack Frost may be tardy, but we all know he is coming. Temps change rapidly in our state and Jack

can make a sudden appearance.  This frost appears to be coming the end of the week according to the weather man.  We need to be prepared to protect our plants from Jack’s first kiss.  The first frost is usually a light one (29–32°F). In this case, we can protect our sensitive plants with a blanket or tarp. This will provide a few degrees of protection.  Our late frost will allow late-ripening vegetables like ornamental corn to develop their maximum color this year.  Impatiens, zinnia, celosia, geranium and coleus are among the most sensitive flowers.  Broccoli, cabbage, carrot and radish can tolerate light frosts and do not require protection. The cool temperatures of fall will actually improve the flavor of these vegetables.

Among the most frost-tolerant annual flowers are petunia, marigold cosmos, and pansy.  If we can withstand this first frost, we can sometimes eke out 10 or more days of gardening before a

hard frost (28°F or colder) strikes.  The average frost date for us is usually around September 15-20 so we have been very fortunate so far.


Some other gardening tips as we get ready for the first frost, whenever that comes. 

Tomato. Gardeners can harvest tomatoes with a pink blush, fruits must be blemish-free to prevent

rotting off the vine. Clean the fruits and place them in a location with bright but indirect light. Do not

place in a sunny area; this causes the outer skin of the tomato to redden before its inner flesh develops flavor.  Room temperatures are best.  Cooler than room temperatures prevent the tomatoes from developing their full flavor. Higher temperatures cause the same problem, plus increase the chance of rotting.  Set the tomatoes on a sheet of newspaper, and then place another

sheet over the fruits. This will trap the ripening gas, called ethylene, which tomatoes emit when maturing.  Some gardeners wrap every tomato to trap ethylene. Other gardeners place apples with the tomatoes since apples emit ethylene.

Pumpkins and winter squash.

Fruits are ripe when the skin becomes hard and cannot be punctured with a fingernail. The skin will

lose its glossiness and become dull.  Harvest the ripe fruits carefully.  Any bruising or wounding of the fruits can be entry points for disease and reduce storage life. Keep at least a 3-inch stem on pumpkins and a 1-inch stem on winter squash.  To maximize storage life, “cure” the pumpkins and most winter squash in a warm spot (80°F) for 7– 10 days to toughen the skin. Curing can also give blushing pumpkins more orange color. Acorn squash are the exception and should not be cured since this harms their flavor and storage life.

Preparing for frost

Fruits can be wiped, but should not be washed. Store under cool (50–55°F) and moderately dry (50–

70% humidity) conditions. Avoid storing the fruits in piles since this can generate heat and encourage fungal growth. Set the fruits on pallets, if possible. A well ventilated spot is preferred. Acorn squash can store 6 weeks, pumpkins and most winter squash store 2 to 3 months.

Apple. Apples can tolerate temperatures approaching 25°F before suffering damage.  If apples freeze on the tree, wait until they thaw before picking; this will reduce bruising. Use this fruit

quickly since it will not store long.  Harvested fruits should be kept cool (32–40°F is ideal). For small

amounts, keep in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator. For large amounts, the fruits can be stored in cardboard boxes.


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