New England gardening: Beware the frosts of early spring

Signs of spring: It is time to lift large clumps of snowdrops when they have finished flowering and divide the bulbs.
Signs of spring: It is time to lift large clumps of snowdrops when they have finished flowering and divide the bulbs.

September, the official start of spring is here.

The days are lengthening by noticeable amounts each week and it feels like we are about to launch into sunny times with maybe some green about us again.

This time of the year, however, can still be freezing, and in fact more damage can happen to our gardens during an early spring frost than those minus 10 degrees we experienced during July.

Frost damage is caused when the water inside a plant freezes, causing ice crystals to form in the plant tissue and sometimes even within the cells. Damage from the crystals can be enough to kill plant tissue directly or lead to moisture loss.

When the temperature warms up, the fluids in the cells leak out and the cells die.

Plant cells that are plump with water are stronger against cold damage so it follows that plants under drought stress can be more susceptible to cold damage.

Spray applications of seaweed products can also help by strengthening cell walls, and so minimising the chance of frost damage.

Early spring jobs

Lift large clumps of snowdrops when they have finished flowering and divide the bulbs before replanting.

Continue preparing beds for spring planting; dig in plenty of compost and manure / fertiliser and ensure good drainage. Top-dress other garden beds with complete fertiliser, compost and / or well-rotted manure, if available.

Sow broad beans 5-8cm deep into beds that have had some well-rotted organic matter incorporated into them. Gently cover with soil, water in and label the row.

If you are planning to grow potatoes this year, chit them now to get a head start. Place tubers in egg cartons with the majority of eyes facing up. Keep them in a cool, light and frost-free place until green shoots appear, when they are ready to plant.

At the last meeting of the Armidale Garden Club, members were treated to a fascinating talk by Dr Lobry de Bruyn from UNE on earthworms, identification and how to promote conditions that best suit worm and other soil biota in order to reap the benefits.

The benefits include better soil structure, increased organic matter, resilience to disturbance or erosion, greater water retention and less loss of nutrients.

The Armidale Garden Club’s next meeting is on Thursday, September 27 at 7pm in the Uniting Church Hall. Just turn up – everyone is welcome and you always learn something.

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