Those first sunny days of spring are torture for gardeners in colder climates that just can’t wait to get their hands dirty. While the warm sunshine is an invitation to play in the dirt, wise gardeners know that Mother Nature can quickly take it away and replace it with more unwanted snow and cold temperatures.
When preparing to garden, it never hurts to check planting and gardening zone maps, as well as maps that show the first and last frost dates of the year. Although this information, which should be available at your local extension agency, will not always hold 100 percent true, it can work as a suitable planting guideline.
The United States Department of Agriculture’s Hardiness Zone Map divides the North American continent into 11 zones. Each zone is 10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer (or colder) in an average winter than the zone adjacent to it.
The USDA bases zone information on the average annual minimum temperature ranges. The purpose of the determining plant hardiness zones is to help gardeners and farmers to understand what types of plants will grow well in their area.
It is important that you buy plants that are recommended for your zone or geographical area. If you buy plants that are not rated for your temperature zone, you will have to take great care to protect them from frost and cold temperatures.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration publishes frost maps that can help you determine when the last frost date is expected for the area in which you live. These are helpful in that they provide a general guideline as to when the first killing frost is likely to put an end to your gardening. The frost maps also help you to make an intelligent decision about when to start the garden.
Those living in warmer climates can garden for longer periods of the year because the lack of frost (or the fact that frost occurs less frequently) allows for a longer growing season.
People who live in colder climates where winters are harsh have a much longer wait until they can toil in the soil.
However, it is possible to warm the soil by covering it with black plastic or cloth. The black color helps to soak up the sun, warming the soil underneath.
Some plants will thrive in cooler temperatures if you cover them with solar caps. These can be made from plastic jugs that are cut off near the bottom.
Some people use heat cables to warm garden beds. These work especially well in greenhouses.
Cold frames, which are simple wooden frames that are covered with glass or plastic, can extend the gardening season.
If you’ve already planted a garden and the threat of frost exists, cover the plants at night with a basket to protect them from frost. Uncover them in the morning.
Want to learn more about planting and gardening zones?
Information about frost dates is available at Planting and Gardening Zones.
You can learn more about how to warm garden soil by visiting How to Get an Early Start on Your Spring Garden.