By Denise Richardson
Traces of a visit by Jack Frost overnight might leave severe damage to plant life in Otsego, Delaware and Chenango counties, weather officials said Monday.
The National Weather Service in Binghamton issued a freeze warning Monday to be in effect throughout the area until 6 a.m. today. The spell was expected to be cold enough to damage or kill crops and other sensitive vegetation.
The overnight frost was expected to be unusually hard for this time of year and this area, said Regina Winters, garden center manager at Asbury Gardens on River Street in Oneonta.
Local gardeners said plants already in the ground might have been protected from killing temperatures with a frost blanket, a light cotton sheet or pillow case, a cardboard box or other sheltering container.
The NWS projected overnight lows to be in the mid-20s to about 30 degrees, and growers with commercial or home-based agricultural projects were urged to protect any crops or outside plants. A freeze warning means sub-freezing temperatures are imminent or highly likely.
Asbury Gardens' open house this weekend was well-attended considering the cold weather, Winters said.
``People want to know what they can plant now,'' she said.
Planting may be safe after this frost for some plants, but gardeners should continue to be cautious, Winters said, and soil temperatures also are a consideration.
Winters said the cold temperatures and frost can have varied impact in the region. Plants that appear black and mushy after a frost are ``pretty much dead,'' she said. But plants with discoloration and curled edges might revive, Winters said, and gardeners in doubt can wait a few days to see if damaged tissue can be pruned away.
``People here are mostly used to this crushing spring thing,'' Winters said. ``I wish so much it was really spring weather.''
Cornell Cooperative Extension reports the average last-spring frost dates for the region were May 20 to 30, which are to be considered a guideline, not a timeline for planting. Chances are that in half the years, gardeners will experience frost after the average last frost date, officials said.
Cornell Cooperative Extension Otsego County's website at http://counties.cce.cornell.edu/otsego has a link to Cornell's map outlining frost information.
Elaine Nahman, master gardener with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Otsego County, said the frosty, cold weather of recent days has damaged some perennials.
``This is such extraordinarily cold and wet weather,'' Nahman, who lives at the Laurens-Oneonta line, said. She said she hasn't started her crops of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage yet. Nahman said others have taken a gamble with the weather, but years ago, an unexpected frost killed her plants and she since has preferred to wait instead of planting twice.
``I'm doing things very, very slowly,'' Nahman said. Perhaps planting will be possible next week, she said.
``But who knows?'' she said. ``This is Oneonta.''
The NWS forecast rain today and tonight, with lows around 40 degrees with showers likely Wednesday. High temperatures today will be in the lower 50s, the NWS said, and on Wednesday, highs will be in the upper 40s and lows overnight will be in the lower 30s.
Sue Guinan, a Milford Center resident, plants exclusively in pots, avoiding the challenges of sowing in the ground. However, she doesn't start her window boxes or pots until frost dangers are past. One year, she said, she lost her plants to hail and now with more than 13 window boxes, moving them to shelter would be a lot of work.
``It's not worth it,'' Guinan said. ``I don't usually put them out before Memorial Day.''