It bodes well to all fellow Georgia gardeners that we will have an early Spring. At least according to Gen. Beauregard Lee. The South’s iconic groundhog, Gen. Beauregard Lee, waddled out of his “Weathering Heights” mansion and failed to see his shadow on the Georgia red dirt. The development bodes well for warm weather. But does this really mean we can put out our tomatoes early? Probably not. I mean, Gen. Lee only has a 94% success rate with predicting whether we have an early or late spring. It is entirely possible that we will have an early Spring. The weather this Winter has been crazy warm with an expected temperature of 70 today. I will not be putting my transplants out into the garden any earlier based on a groundhog’s prediction. As everyone else knows, waiting for the last frost-free date for you area is recommended.
Waiting for the last frost free date is not a guarantee that we won’t have a crazy late cold snap so you must ensure that you provide the correct protection to your plants if you want to be the first one on the block with fresh tomatoes. Below are some rules of thumb to help you protect your early plants.
Every Southern gardener has seen a country garden in early Spring that contains dozens of empty milk jugs. Other than being unsightly, a milk jug hat is one of the best tools to protect your plants. Just remember to remove the lid on the milk jug before the heat of the day. This will prevent the milk jug from becoming an oven and baking your plants. If you have plenty of money to spend, forgo the milk jug and buy the Wall-O-Water tubes that wrap around your plants. Just fill the tubes with water to protect the plant and to keep the water tubes upright.
You can also use a floating row cover (made from light-colored, non-woven, breathable fabric) or tunnel row covers (made of wire or fiberglass hoops covered with non-woven fabric or plastic) to protect your plants. This tool is wonderful and can be re-used over and over to protect your plants.
As with the milk jugs though, be sure to open the ends of the row cover to allow air to circulate once it warms up. You can also use the floating row covers to protect some of your plants from unwanted pests or birds.
If you do not have the money to buy the fancy row covers, you can use an old blanket or sheets. Since sheets or blankets are much heavier than the row cover fabric, be sure to rig up some type of support to prevent damage to your plants.