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Frost Damaged Tomatoes

>18 April 2012
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I forgot to tell you guys what happened to my plants after that hard frost the other day.

It was so sad.

Even though I covered them, 32 of my 38 tomatoes were killed by the unexpected cold streak. I don’t know what temperature it got down to that night, but after weeks of being almost 80*, that morning when I went outside the frost was so thick on the ground it looked like it had snowed.

When I went to uncover all of my plants, this is what I found. They were shriveled, and limp. And by the next day, almost all had turned brown and dried completely up.

Bummer.

I was SO looking forward to having enough tomatoes to can up spaghetti sauce, salsa, tomato juice, ketchup…

At least I left a couple of plants in the greenhouse. And I’m grateful that there are still a few remaining tomato plants alive in the garden. I’m not sure what happened, other than that maybe the containers I covered them with were touching the plants’ leaves. My mother-in-law always tells me that whatever you cover them with cannot touch them, or the plants will die.

*Sigh* Such is life. I had three tiny little Amish Paste tomato seeds left in my envelope, so I got them started in the greenhouse. I think I still have time to start a few plants over again.

I’m not going to pull the dead ones up yet. Yesterday, when I went out to mourn my tomatoes again, I was examining them up close and I noticed that a couple of the formerly largest of the plants had a tiny green sprig growing up from the stump that remained in the ground. Signs of life!! There may be hope yet for some of them! So, I’ll leave them where they are, and see what happens. Maybe I’ll get lucky after all.

Although a few other plants got some major frost damage to their leaves, I think they’ll be okay. My fig trees and grapevines look especially pitiful, but they’ll recover.

Man!! I’ll have to be more careful next year, and not fall for the rookie mistake of trusting unseasonably warm weather. Next year, I’ll keep my seedlings in the greenhouse longer.

I’m wondering, have you ever had frost damaged plants come back? Any advice for me for next time around?

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18 Comments »

  • Debbie@ouroldhomestead.blogspot.com said:

    So sorry to hear that! No advice for you as all I ever do is cover them and hope for the best. Wishing you the best that they (or at least a few) will recover!

  • Gone Country said:

    I was glad when you said you hadn’t pulled the tomatoes out yet thinking that they might come back. If there is a next time, try laying some Christmas lights on the ground around your plants and then cover them. The heat from the lights should help protect them.

  • Deborah said:

    I also got frost after unseasonable warm weather. The first night I watered the plants before sunset and then went out before the sun rose and rewatered them. The second night I did not water them but got up the next morning and watered them. I lost a few green bean plants but everything else looks good. I did not cover them at all just watered them. I read that by watering before the sun comes up the frost does not expand and cause cell damage. It seemed to work since I only lost 3 plants.

  • Amy @ Homestead Revival said:

    I’m so sorry to hear about your tomatoes! I have a ton of volunteers from my worm composting bin that are looking great – wishing I could share them with you! This is just one more “lesson” that will make you a better gardener in the long run. I find that mistakes like these are engraved in our mind and we don’t forget them nearly as easily in the future! Kind of like my bee thing last year (remember how I starved them? Won’t happen again!).

    As far as protecting them against frost… a covering is usually only going to protect for a light frost that is short in duration. And different covers protect to different degrees. Eliot Coleman talks about this in his book Four Season Harvest if I remember correctly. For example, most frost blankets will give you about a 4 degree window – that’s all. And because different plants can tolerate cold differently, that 4 degrees is either plenty of protection or not nearly enough. Tomatoes – not enough; they are more tropical and heat loving. Next time, I would cover like you did and then throw the Christmas lights in and a blanket on top, but you must remember to remove it or you’ll fry them later when it warms up. I did this to my Chard recently. One day left covered and they were toast. I’m learning that checking my garden has to be 100% routine – every. single. morning. without. fail. and every. single. evening. without. fail.

  • Cathy said:

    Hi Kendra,
    I don’t start my tomatoes until the first weeks of April. I’m in No. Illinois. I would think you still have time to start them from seed without any problems. Sometimes when I have started them later they catch up with the ones I started earlier when the weather heats up they just take off!

  • Cris said:

    Kendra if you need more seeds I am swimming in Roma and am more then willing to share. Message me if interested sweethomeserenity@gmail.com they are from peacefully valley seeds and sprouted very well for me (I have about 130 plants inside from these seeds)

    My hubby blessed me with tons of pretty herbs and we almot planted them but I still hesitate since my last frost is still a month away.

  • daisy said:

    Such a heartbreak. I think you still have plenty of time to grow more! Hope all of the frosts are long gone!

  • Kimberly in NC said:

    Covered mine as well, and seems I lost two out of 7. I’m with you in leaving them be for a while to see if they might recover…I’ve got nothing to lose by waiting. Did you mulch with wood chips or what? Looks good! I need to figure out something to put around my plants for cheap.

  • Jane said:

    Ahhh!!! I totally feel your pain, I lost over 40 tomato plants last spring! Then, in the fall, I had a couple of tomato plants that were on the verge of being frost bitten, so I brought them inside. I later found out they were pretty crispy! But, they survived the winter, grew back, and I am eating fresh tomatoes now from those plants! :)

  • Lanna said:

    It’s always heartbreaking when that happens, I’m sorry. :(
    I’m no help though since my tomato seedlings just came up in the greenhouse (can’t put in the ground until Memorial Day).

  • Caroline said:

    After waiting a while to see what survives, I would consider at least replacing some with a few plants from a local greenhouse. Even if you have to pay $2-3 a plant (and I have seen them as little as .33) it will still be worth the investment for the food and canning value. Also check the greenhouses at the end of their selling season. They often get rid of the last bit of stock for pennies a plant.

  • ann said:

    i cover my tomatoes and fall vegies with a large plastic painters tarp over 1/2 inch pvc bowed pipe with christmas lights ….i live in az and the temp this week will be 101 a few weeks ago it was freezing and several inches of snow in northern az

  • Mrs. D said:

    I’m with “Gone Country”. Don’t pull those plants just yet. New plants will probably grow from the roots. I’m not sure how fruitful they will be, but it’s worth a try and also plant new ones if you have them. With the unusually warm weather we’ve had this year it’s tempting to plant stuff right now, but around here we normally have threat of frost until May, so nothing will get planted till Memorial Day except frost tolerant stuff like peas, cabbage and broccoli or whatever comes up on it’s own. We don’t start tomatoes from seed ’cause I have no place to keep them till April. It’s a waste of time and money. I usually invest in 12 tomato plants… six early girls and six roma or some type of paste tomato. We have some tomatoes that come up from drops from last year, but they aren’t even up ’til middle of June. They give us a few cherry tomatoes to munch on before fall frost, but they don’t really produce any large fruit. I’d say you have plenty of time to start over. I have a strip of burlap and many burlap bags that I put over all my stuff in the fall to keep the frost from killing everything. Plastic is not the best insulator. I think the Christmas light idea is interesting. We’ve also used “water towers”, but they can be expensive. We picked some up from a “going out of business” sale one time and keep them in the greenhouse away from the mice. Yes, I have a greenhouse, but it is being used for storage at this time and filled with canning jars.

    Hope you have success with the tomatoes. I will be interested to hear how it goes.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Cris,

    That’s super, super sweet of you to offer!! I still have lots of tomato seeds, just not any more paste tomatoes. I’ll be sure to save seeds from any that grow on my surviving plants for next year. Thank you so much for offering though!! :)

  • Khadija said:

    Don’t pull them out yet. This happened to me before and if any tiny piece is still alive, you can expect them to rebound. Also, if they do all die, do this: take cuttings from the other tomato plants you have. Put them in water (in a jar) in a south- facing window. They will root and you can plant them in place of your frozen plants. I had to do this one year and it worked. Don’t give up! :D

  • Ashlee said:

    I was hardening off my tomatoes and I forgot to bring them in the night we had frost, and the next day I was going out of town…so they died, too. I was so sad. I was hoping to have a few early tomatoes this year, but that’s not going to happen. I’ll just have to wait until next month to plant tomatoes.

  • trixiefly said:

    I had a couple of tomato’s that were hit by a freak frost in June of all times, I had them covered with water walls since late April so I thought I was doing great and they were large. I had just uncovered them when we had a dip in temp and got two frosts in one week. I covered them the second time but the first one did them in. I lost half my peppers, and the ones that survived lost all their leaves and had to start over. So much for my early start. But my tomato’s although they did survive in the long run, they are weird looking. The leaves are curled up and do not open like they are supposed to. They are putting out a few flowers but not as many as they should have. I went out and bought one other tomato plant to replace them if they died so I will get a decent showing from it, but I am not so sure what the frost damaged ones will do. Does anyone know what I might be able to do with them? I cut back a lot of the extra growth so they can focus on the area with the flowers on it, but? still just not that sure about what I am doing to say for sure. I would appreciate any advice or knowledge.

  • Kendra at New Life On A Homestead (author) said:

    Trixiefly,

    I’d say just leave them and see what happens. Maybe you can give them some Miracle Grow, they might be lacking something. I always sprinkle dried egg shells and coffee grounds around my plants to help with the calcium and stuff. Good luck!!

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