Determining when the first frost will come is a challenging question that I get every fall. Gardening is a gamble, and the weather holds the dice.

This question comes up every fall when people are trying to decide about what to do in the garden. I can remember the first frost as early as the second week of October, but it could happen as late as the middle of November.

When our frost comes, you can say goodbye to the warm-season vegetables. These will generally be killed out when the first frost comes.

If you planted cool-season vegetables, they are going to love a light frost. Many of our greens, cabbages and broccoli can handle light frosts just fine. These should have been planted to give them ample time to establish themselves before the cooler weather sets in though.

Spinach, lettuce, and even collards can taste better if they are exposed to a light frost. If you have ever grown turnip greens in the fall, you know this for a fact. Even though it is cooler weather, these crops still need adequate water and fertility to remain vigorous. We can still go through a period of drought in the winter.

These cool-season vegetables will perform better if they are taken care of much like our warm-season vegetables.

Once we are well into winter, many of these cool-season vegetables can have an extended life. Floating row covers or frost cloth will help keep them warm enough to survive well into winter and perhaps through the entire winter. These need to be raised off the plants just in case we get a freeze.

I’ve seen people use bent pipe or wire and make low tunnels for this to be placed over the plants they’re trying to protect. It will create a very small greenhouse for the plants to be protected from the frost.

If you have unripe tomatoes, they can be harvested before frost to finish ripening indoors. Fruit harvested at about 50% color will ripen up just fine inside the home. Keep an eye on the weather and bring in any unharvested warm-season vegetables before we get a killing frost.

Many of my home vegetables are done, but we’ve still got a few peppers and cherry tomatoes hanging on for dear life. It’s probably a good weekend to finish gathering stuff up and start cleaning the garden out.

Lucas Holman is the Horticulture UT-TSU Extension Agent, Wilson County. Contact him at (615) 444-9584 or

Recommended for you