Wild weather fluctuations make garden planning difficult. In the past ten years the last frost date in my town has fluctuated between April 30 and June 10.
In cool summers my tomatoes and eggplants bear poorly, in hot ones peas die early and greens bolt or turn bitter.
I’ve learned a few ways of adapting:
Pay attention. I watch the weather forecast for a couple of weeks after the official frost-free date, and cover sensitive plants when cold weather threatens.
Use season-extending devices. Floating row covers provide 4-6 degrees of frost protection (depending on their weight) and allow most rain and sunlight to reach plants below. Cold frames are easy to make and offer more protection. Click here for details from the experts at the Virginia Cooperative Extension.
Plant successions. I start sowing greens as soon as the ground can be worked and plant successions fortnightly. I start tomatoes 12, 10 and 8 weeks ahead of the official frost-free dates; in warm springs the early ones are optimally sized when it’s safe to plant them out while the late ones lag behind, in cold springs the late ones are just right while the early ones are leggy. For a quick overview, click here.
Shade and water heat-sensitive crops. I cool lettuce with shade fabric or plant it on the north side of tall crops. I also water it daily in hot spells. This delays bolting and reduces bitterness. Shade and frequent watering help many seeds to germinate in hot weather.
Mulch. Black plastic mulch warms soil; hay and grass cool it. Any mulch helps to insulate soil from short-term temperature fluctuations.
Plant a variety of crops. Some years favor peas and greens, others peppers and eggplants. Savor whatever thrives easily, and try the tips above to help struggling crops.
Next time -- Weird Weather 2: How fluctuations in rainfall also pose a challenge.