Commercial and home growers brace for hard frost

Published: May. 17, 2023 at 5:14 PM EDT
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JEFFERSONVILLE, Vt. (WCAX) - Farmers and fruit growers across the region are preparing for frosty conditions Wednesday night that could damage crops.

As Dick and Ann Harris stroll through their apple orchard in Jeffersonville Wednesday, they see the snow land on the new buds and worry about what the night will bring. “You can cut it open and it will be dark and you can see the frost damage on it,” Dick said.

“We just started to come into bloom in the last few days,” added Ann.

While the growing season at the Stony Grove orchard got off to a great start, the beauty of the bloom is overshadowed. “Living here in Vermont, we always know that this can happen,” Ann said.

Based on the bloom stage, they say temperatures of 27 degrees could kill 10% of their crop. Colder than that and they could lose up to 90%. Forecasters say Wednesday night could bring temperatures between 25 and freezing across the region, leaving the couple crossing their fingers. “We’re nervous because we could lose our crop,” Ann said.

But it’s not just commercial growers, local garden centers say that anyone with sensitive flowers and starts should be thinking about protecting their plants. “Just because we have had this beautiful weather doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have nights like tonight,” said Chris Conant at Claussen’s Florist & Greenhouse in Colchester. Conant says a frost in May is a common Vermont problem and he often encourages folks to hold off planting until Memorial Day. But he says the glorious Mother’s Day and the warm start to spring likely inspired many to kick off the season early. “Start the gardening season off right by protecting your investment.”

He recommends bringing any plant that is mobile inside a garage, car, or home. For plants already in the ground, consider a sheet, blanket, or towel draped over them to keep the frost off. “That extra few minutes at the end of the day will make a huge difference in making sure those plants are protected,” he said.

Back in Jeffersonville, the Harris’ can’t cover the whole orchard and will just have to wait out the night. “I think we’ll just be staring at the thermometer,” Ann said.