Sunny weather brings out the vegetable gardener in many of us. Too often we spend lots of money on tomato, cucumber and other cold sensitive plants and lose them in the last freeze. There are ways to protect plants from spring freezes. Wouldn’t most avid gardeners love to have a heated greenhouse? Or, second best, high or low tunnels? Yet, the reality is that most of us garden on the cheap and don’t have built structures to protect our plants. Years ago, a master gardener volunteer told me one of my favorite low-cost ways – use a paper grocery bag with handles. She said turn it upside down over the plant and put rocks on the handles to hold it in place. A variation on this is to support the bag by stapling it to stakes. Cardboard boxes also would work. Both of these will provide some cold protection, but probably won’t protect in a hard freeze for multiple days and they might not last long in gusting winds.
Traditional methods of cold protection include cloches. No ladies, not those cute little hats from the 1920s. An old-fashioned garden cloche is made of glass and looks like a lid for a cake plate. They come in many sizes and styles. One site I found online listed prices ranging from $23 to $196. These too might not persevere in heavy winds. They would look very English in the garden though! A cheaper homemade version of the cloche is a gallon milk jug or liter bottle. Cut out the bottom and place the remainder of the jug over a small plant. Save the lid to close up this mini-greenhouse on really cold nights. If you cut off the handle or make a hole, you can drive a stake through to secure the jug to the ground. Remember to remove these if the weather warms up or you may bake your seedlings.
Wrapping plants in bedding supported by stakes or tomato cages is another inexpensive technique. Secure the bottoms with rocks or soil. Of course, you could buy protective devices. Some products are a series of connected plastic cylinders, 18 inches to 20 inches tall. You fill each cylinder with water, which absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night. Remove this protection as the weather stays hot or at the very least, fold the cylinders down to avoid burning plants.
Be creative in protecting plants from late cold weather.