Much Ado about (early) Winter


photo by Darlene Hitchcock, snow in Show Low 

When I tell people around the country that I live and garden in Arizona, the first thing they say is, "it must be nice to be able to garden year-round. I don't even know what I would do if I had 12 months to grow instead of 5!"Well, as you know from my first post, this area where I live is NOT typical "Arizona". We have freezing temperatures longer than we don't have freezing temperatures, and snow lasts into May at some of the higher elevations around us.

Here in St. Johns (zone 6), the average first frost of the season is between October 11 and October 20 (according to Plant Maps), which I have found to be true. Often, we have a small frost that can be protected against with row covers or blankets, then two more weeks of good weather to get the harvest in and let those last tomatoes finish up with their ripening. Because we know and usually rely on these averages, we have blankets by the doors come October 10. However, as sometimes happens in the White Mountains, the weather man predicts rain and cool temperatures but the weather delivers frost and snow.

Early snows, particularly heavy, wet snows like this area gets sometimes, damage plants and trees,and sometimes break power lines. The photo below, taken by Darlene Hitchcock, shows how a heavy, wet snow early in the season (October 7).

But early snows aren't all bad, even for the garden. A thick blanket of "warm" snow helps to insulate plants from colder temperatures, allowing the gardener to have an extra day or two of harvest time.

In colder areas, like Vernon, when snow falls, temperature plummets. Paula Johnson, long-term resident of Vernon, took this picture at 8 a.m. when temperatures had already raised to a balmy 33º. The frost was light last night, but gardeners were discussing how many green tomatoes they pulled into garages and barns, to ripen there because of the cold.

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