Potential overnight frost in Northeast Ohio could be more damaging than snow for plants and vineyards

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CLEVELAND – With spring blossoms buried under snowfall overnight, could there be lasting damage to your plants?

The more significant damage could come with a frost Wednesday night that has many Northeast Ohio vineyards bracing.

Local garden experts say shrubs and plants like perennials, cold crop vegetables and hardier annuals should be fine, despite the late-season snow, because they are protected by warm soil.

“Trees and shrubs are going to be perfectly fine. The flower tissue itself is the most vulnerable,” said Ken Zawicki, Director of Retail Operations for Petitti Garden Centers. “If you have a newly planted tree or shrub, and it’s in flower right now, you do run the risk of those flowers browning.”

Zawicki said hardier annuals, such as petunias, are able to withstand cool temperatures. But, he said impatiens, begonias and summer vegetables should not be planted until after the average “frost-free date” in Northeast Ohio, which is May 12.

With the potential for frost Wednesday night, he suggested covering potentially vulnerable plants outside your home.

“Frosts are actually worse than snows. They’re calling for a frost this evening potentially. The frost will brown out the flower pretty quickly,” Zawicki said.

A frost could be devastating for grape crops now budding at local vineyards.

“They’re very subject to damage right now,” said Tony Debevc, president of Debonne Vineyards in Madison, Ohio’s largest winery.

Debevc said grape vines can withstand snowfall, but the real trouble comes when a frost freezes buds, which become damaged when they rapidly thaw.

“We could lose $200,000 to $300,000 in one night. No question,” Debevc said.

Debonne plans to use five large wind machines to funnel warmer air toward the vines Wednesday night to protect as many as possible from damaged.’

“We take these wind machines and mix that warmer inverted air down to the ground where the cold air is located,” Debevc said.

Even if grapes are lost, he said the past three years have provided strong crops for the winery.

“Inventories are good, so we’re not going to run out of wine,” he said. “We may have to supplement from other regions just to get through.”

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