Knowing the last frost date for your area is important.
Your gardening schedule will be partly determined by the date of your average last frost.
And the frost date isn't just for springtime.
If you’re a fall gardener, you’ll want to know the first frost date, too.
Whether you’re starting your seeds indoors, buying transplants from a nursery, or planting seeds directly in your garden, you’ll want to coordinate your schedule with the last frost date.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll wait until the last spring frost to plant.
If you want to get an early start to the gardening season, there’s plenty of things you can do to provide frost protection for your plants.
But no frost protection methods are invincible, so the earlier you start your season, the greater the risk. And the greater the potential reward, as well!
For areas where the growing season is long enough to plant a fall garden, the first frost date will also be of importance.
You’ll want to plant your fall garden early enough to get as much production as possible before the first fall frost. In many areas, though, you’ll have to balance that with waiting out the worst of the summer heat before planting.
It’s also important to understand the difference last frost date and average last frost. This is often a point of confusion for newbie gardeners.
The date of the average last frost is NOT the last date that you have a chance of frost.
Quite the opposite, because the last frost of the spring is as often later than the average last frost date as it is earlier. So if you plant your tender transplants on the average last frost day, they are still at significant risk of freeze damage.
So be ready with your frost protection defenses.
On the other hand, if you wait until the historical last frost day, then you’re pretty safe. Because that means that there has never been a frost later than that date – at least for as far back as weather readings have been recorded at that station.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that a new record won’t be set this year – right after you’ve planted those tender tomatoes!
But it’s extremely unlikely.
By waiting until the last frost date, though, instead of the average last frost, you’ll be getting a late start to the season. There’s usually a significant difference between the two dates.
An easy and accurate way of learning your frost dates is to call your nearest USDA extension office. In fact, USDA extension offices can be a great source of all kinds of information important to the home gardener.
Not sure where your nearest extension office is? You can find it here.
Another great resource is provided by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Go to the NOAA home page, and in the entry box on the upper left, type in your zip code and click ‘go.’
The next page will show your local forecast.
Scroll down to the bottom of that page and click ‘Local Climatology.’
The next page will provide a wealth of climatologic data for your area. In addition to frost dates, you’ll find rainfall and temperature averages and extremes, and much more.
For my non-US readers, go here, type in your city and country, and click ‘Local Weather.’
Scroll down to the bottom of the ‘Daily Forecast Chart’, and click on ‘Historic Averages.’
There you’ll find daily temperature averages, and for some locations, record low and high temperatures.
Be aware that even though your closest reporting station may not be far from you in terms of distance, you could be in a microclimate that will make YOUR first frost date and last frost date considerably different.
Variables such as whether you’re at a higher altitude or near a large body of water can significantly alter YOUR frost free dates from the nearest reporting station’s dates.
Keeping a weather journal of your own can be a lot of fun, and over time will provide you with valuable information about your own microclimate. You’ll come to know what to expect from Mother Nature in your own back yard.
And isn’t that what’s really important?