Residents throughout many parts of Pettis and surrounding counties have woken to a hard cold reality the past two mornings.
With temperatures in the teens, Mother Nature is proving that both she and Punxsutawney Phil are still running the show.
The first day of spring officially arrives Monday, and although temperatures have been in the 70s during early March the effects of a freeze on plants can be quite devastating.
“I don’t know what the weather holds for the next few weeks, but with early bud break this year a hard freeze could be very damaging to ornamental and fruit crops,” Brent Carpenter, agricultural business specialist for Pettis County University of Missouri Extension, said March 6. “Statistically, we are at risk for a killing frost.”
Carpenter said in half of the years (median) Pettis County has temperatures of 28 degrees or below after April 7 and in half of the years (median) the county has temperatures of 32 degrees or below after April 19.
For farmers the wheat crop faces the greatest threat from frost.
“Wheat acres are exposed to a real risk of freeze damage,” Carpenter said. “After the jointing stage of the plant, which is likely to occur earlier than normal this year, a freeze could be devastating.
“Warm weather has signaled the plant to grow,” Carpenter added. “As the plant matures the level of damage caused by a hard freeze increases.”
Not only is this true for crops but the maturity level of the plant can determine the amount of damage it faces by frost or freezing conditions.
Annual or yearly plants can’t survive a freeze.
Perennials, which come back every year, are considered root hardy. Exposed foliage will generally die in a freeze but since the roots are hardy, foliage may recover.
Shrubs and trees that have seen early blooms may suffer damage but in general the plants will survive.
Warmer temperatures have already brought customers out to local greenhouses and stores that sell plants and trees.
“We’ve had customers already come in wanting to purchase onion sets, seed potatoes, asparagus and strawberry plants,” said Dave Moore, co-owner of Moore’s Greenhouse and Flower Shop.
Customers have also been purchasing broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower plants and seeds, which tend to take some cold conditions better than other vegetable plants.
“We’ve had a steady stream of onion and potato people,” said Jonathan Rear, an employee at Moore’s. “We’ve also had some customers asking for tomato plants, but it really is too early for those to be planted.”
There are several things that can be done to protect tender plants from damage, according to Moore:
• If possible, bring the plants indoors.
• Larger plants may be covered with cloth. It is best to not use any type of plastic such as trash bags to cover the plants.
• Try to cover the entire plant and allow the fabric to reach the ground to use the heat from the soil to help warm the plant.
• Water the plants and soil prior to a freeze. The water acts as an insulator and helps to protect the foliage.
“I think the warm days we had earlier in the month have really made people want to get started,” Melinda Moore said. “They’re anxious.”
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484