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There's still time for another frost

Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow in early February as he peered out of his den on Ground Hog Day, predicting six more weeks of winter for the United States.It seems this renowned rodent was off the mark this year as much of the country has enjoyed an early spring with unseasonably warm temperatures.
According to Rick Thomason, University of Tennessee Extension Director for Johnson County, the spring frost date for our region is May 15th.“It will be a good growing season if we continue having this kind of weather, as long as we don’t have a freeze,” he said.“The weather can be tricky.”He recalled a spring not too many years ago where a spring freeze hit the area in the third week of May, killing all of the fruit, flowers and vegetable plants that had already been set in the gardens.Although many gardeners may be eager to put their plants in the ground, Mother Nature can turn at the drop of a hat.Regardless of the warm spring weather, the freeze date does not change.
Northeast Tennessee falls into hardiness zone six, and some consider our mountainous areas to fall into zone five.The criteria to determine how plants will survive in a particular area are based on the coldest temperatures a region will see in a year.Regions of the United States that fall into zone six experience winter temperatures that can plummet to minus ten degrees Fahrenheit or below, while zone five temperatures can fall as low as minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Thomason, growers can now plant their cool weather crops, such as spinach, potatoes, cabbage and lettuce.These vegetables can handle a little light frost, but a hard freeze that reaches all the way to the ground can cause severe damage to the plants. As fruit blossoms emerge and the temperature drastically drops, the buds can freeze.Should the temperature drop to 28 degrees for 30 minutes, it could take out ten percent of our local peach crop.As temperatures drop below this level more severe damage can be done to fruit crops.Apple trees are also currently in bloom in Johnson County, approximately three to four weeks ahead of schedule.
Warm weather crops, such as tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, should not be transplanted outdoors until after May15th.The soil temperature needs to be above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in order for the vegetables to germinate and grow.As local gardeners prepare their soil for the growing season, The University of Tennessee’s extension office offers soil testing to determine its ph levels and nutrients.Should this interest you, collect random soil samples from the garden bed from a depth of approximately six inches.Mix it well and bring in a pint-size sample to the local office and they will send the soil to Nashville for testing.The fee for this service is $7.
According to local lore, there are different weather changes before the warm spring weather is here to stay. As the ground begins to thaw, the serviceberry trees begin to bloom.This is known as Sarvis Winter.If the temperature drops while the locust trees are blooming, it is now Locust Winter. As the redbud trees begin to showcase their beautiful colors, a cold snap at this time is referred to as Redbud Winter.Dogwood Winter arrive after a few days of ushering in warm, spring weather that are followed by much cooler temperatures and frost warnings.The cold snap that hits while the blackberries are in bloom is known as Blackberry Winter. Lastly, the Whippoorwill Winter is that last blast of cold air after these birds have made their way north from south of the border.