April 4, 2007 | By: Aimee Nielson

With recent daily highs in the upper 70s and low 80s, many Kentuckians may have believed they were free from winter. But Mother Nature decided to throw a curve ball and push through a front to bring a taste of winter back to the Bluegrass State. The forecast for the next week or so may leave some wondering if plants and crops can weather the snap.

University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Meteorologist Tom Priddy said very cold air will move into and dominate the state’s weather through next Monday.
“Morning low temperatures will likely be near or below freezing Thursday through the upcoming weekend,” he said. “There is a chance of hard freeze each morning from Friday through the weekend with low temperatures dropping into the mid 20s.”

Dewayne Ingram, chairperson of the UK College of Agriculture Horticulture Department, said a few degrees can make a big difference when temperatures dip into the 20s. 

“In Kentucky, we almost always have a late freeze after a warm period in the spring. You can try to protect plants and shrubs by covering them with a wet sheet, or something that covers the entire plant, all the way to the ground,” he said. “What you’re trying to do is trap every bit of radiant heat you can, but if temperatures fall into the lower 20s, some things will not escape damage.”

Plants that have begun to produce new growth may be nipped back over the next few nights as temperatures drop below freezing, said UK Horticulture Professor Bill Fountain. 
“If they are dry, it would be best to water them as soon as possible. Covering plants at night so that they look like a lollypop on a stick is not going to help. It is best to cover the entire plant with a sheet so that all of the plant is in ground contact,” he said, echoing Ingram. “Heat radiating from the ground will be trapped and will aid in keeping tissues from freezing. Using a wet sheet (or spraying the sheet with water once it is on the plant) so that the sheet freezes makes the sheet more airtight.”

Fountain warned not to cover plants with plastic because it traps the warming rays of the early morning sun and causes additional problems. 

“Damage to unprotected plants that have begun to grow will almost immediately turn brown and often develop a shepherd’s crook,” he continued. 

Fountain said flowering plants are more likely to be damaged than those that have already set fruit. For crabapples and other fruits, check the flower/temperature chart in the home fruit publication, HO-64, to match the expected temperature in your area with the bud stage. Local county extension offices have access to this publication.

On the crop side of things, wheat may be the most vulnerable right now. UK Extension Soil Specialist Lloyd Murdock said no corn is up so the only thing the cold snap will do to that crop is slow it from emerging, but no bud damage should occur.

“This cold spell could be a problem for wheat,” he said. “We have wheat out there in various stages from jointing to fixating. At jointing, it won’t cause a lot of damage. The wheat in the fixating stage is the most vulnerable. If we don’t get below 28 degrees or so, it may be all right. But, when the temperatures start dropping into the mid or lower 20s – that’s where we see problems.”

In any case, Murdock suggests farmers quickly assess damage in their fields as soon as the cold spell is over.

For livestock, Priddy said the cold spell could put most of the state in a livestock cold stress situation. 

“The weather models indicate a danger level for livestock moving through this period, with wind chills down in the teens,” he said. “Livestock producers and pet owners should take precautions and make sure animals have adequate food, water and shelter to make it through this time.”

Priddy said he expects temperatures to rise back to near normal sometime next week.


Tom Priddy, 859-257-3000, ext. 245, Bill Fountain, 859-257-3320, Lloyd Murdock, 270-365-7541, ext. 207