The coldest air of the season is descending across the Midlands this week, and nightly temperatures in the Omaha metro are expected to drop into the low 30s, maybe even the upper 20s.
Decision time, if it hasn't already arrived, is upon gardeners: Commit to the daily ritual of covering and uncovering plants to protect them from frost damage; or let nature bring a chilly end to floral displays?
“It's a totally personal choice,” said John Fech, educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.
Still . . .
If you don't mind the extra work, this week's overnight lows aren't expected to be so low that the effort would be a waste, he said. As long as temperatures don't plunge into the teens and 20s, covering plants at night will result in prolonged bloom.
Remember to use cloth rather than plastic sheeting. The latter transmits cold directly to the leaves it touches. Towels, blankets or a couple of bed sheets will do the trick, as will a well-placed plastic bucket.
Temperatures reach their lowest at daybreak, so be sure to keep the plant covered until midmorning, if possible.
Also keep in mind that forecasts can't be perfect when it comes to projecting overnight lows. If nighttime skies clear and winds cease, warm air will quickly rise and temperatures will drop more easily than if the night remained breezy or overcast.
The relative warmth of a given area also will depend on its micro climate:
• Low-lying areas allow cold air to pool.
• Locations next to a building will be protected and warmed by the building.
• East-facing plants will warm more quickly in the morning than those in the west.
Ready to end the season on tender exotics such as caladiums, gladiolus, dahlias and begonias? Let the frost nip them so the plants know to go dormant, then dig them up, cut off the dying greenery, clean the bulb and store them for the season.
Some plants will do better indoors than others, Fech said. Among those that might tolerate a winter inside, given enough room and light, are caladiums and tuberous begonias.