The end of the growing season sneaks up on gardeners quickly. Warm, sunny days get shorter and shorter and suddenly---a frost warning. Saying goodbye to garden-fresh tomatoes and homegrown cucumbers can be hard to do, but fortunately there are some tricks that can help squeeze a few more weeks out of the growing season. Protecting vegetable plants from frost damage can keep tender varieties safe when temperatures fall as low as 28 degrees F.
Know your frost and freeze dates. Frost and freeze dates are approximate, but they will tell you when to begin monitoring temperature conditions in your area.
Watch for frost alerts. Local weather forecasts often include a warning if temperatures are expected to drop below freezing. The National Weather Service also provides this information along with other weather-related warnings, cautions and forecasts.
Ignore cold-hardy plants. Some vegetables are unaffected by a light freeze and some even require it. According the Penn State University College of Agricultural Sciences, "Tolerant plants include lettuce, spinach, chives and the cole crops such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and kohlrabi. Other crops such as carrots and parsnips can not only tolerate a frost, but can be left in the ground all winter if you mulch them heavily." Other hardy crops include beets, turnips, spinach and cilantro.
Harvest fruits and vegetables from vulnerable plants. Pick all ripe tomatoes, summer squash, melons, eggplants, cucumbers and peppers.
Cover remaining plants with light fabric, burlap or cardboard. Mulch the soil surrounding the plants with newspaper, straw, burlap or pine boughs. This will help hold heat in the soil.
Move container plants if possible. Group potted vegetables together to hold warmth. Wrap the containers in burlap or plastic and lightly cover the plants with a bed sheet or other lightweight fabric.
Use a continuous, fine mist to protect plants. Borrowing a technique from citrus farmers, apply a continuous stream of water to the surface area of your plants. As the water freezes on the leaves, heat is released. This protects the plant itself from freezing, but water must be applied nonstop until temperatures rise.