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Experts offer advice for Wichita gardeners before tonight's freeze

By Annie Calovich

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT)

April 14--Tonight's freeze probably won't hurt the Easter flower show that nature has begun to put on -- and that was magically snow-dusted this morning -- but if you've planted tomatoes early, you better have them covered.

The low is forecast to be 28 degrees, and that should not diminish tulips or other spring-flowering bulbs or ornamental trees that are in bloom, extension agent Bob Neier said. Perennials such as hostas could get a touch of cold burn, but it won't hurt them long-term, he said.

But if the low reaches 24 or 25, that could do more damage, including nipping the flowers of peonies that are just showing buds, Neier said. If you don't want to take any chances, you can cover them with 5-gallon buckets.

If you gave in to the siren song of the 80s over the weekend and bought warm-season annuals, bring them inside for a few days, Neier said. Or cover them if they're in the ground.

The same goes for warm-season vegetables. If you've planted tomatoes, cover them. Peppers can be damaged by temperatures below 40, so they may not make it through this cold snap even if covered, extension agent Rebecca McMahon said. They and tomatoes normally should not be planted until May.

A low of 28 degrees represents the loss of about 10 percent of fruit buds on trees such as apricots and cherries that are in the post-bloom phase, McMahon said. It also could reduce the fruit that crabapple trees will bear, Neier said.

But again, "a few degrees makes a big difference," McMahon said. If the temperature dips lower than 28, more buds will be killed on fruit trees, affecting their fruit production for the year. For example, at 25 degrees, an apple tree in full bloom would lose 90 percent of its fruit buds, McMahon said.

The dip in temperature is cooling off soil temperatures, too, McMahon said, so she recommends putting off this week's vegetable-planting calendar for at least a week while we wait for another warm-up. After tonight, the next lowest low is forecast to be 35 -- with another chance for snow -- Thursday night.

(c)2014 The Wichita Eagle