Take soil temperature to determine planting time

By David Nagel and Lelia Kelly

Extension Horticulture Specialists

Distributed by Lisa Stewart, Webster County Director


Few vegetables withstand temperatures below 15 degrees. The good thing about Mississippi weather is that you can plant some more after the cold is over in a week or so.

One quick vegetable to plant between crops lost to cold and spring crops are root turnips like White Lady, Hakurei and Polar, which are ready for harvest in six weeks.

English, snap and snow peas should be planted about six weeks before the last frost. This means plant them now if you can see the Gulf, but wait for the first week of February for all but the hill country in the northeast part of the state.

The best way to determine planting time is to stick a thermometer in the soil at 2 inches and plant when the temperature is 50 or above for three days in a row. There have been great advances in pea plant shape in the last few years and many varieties can be grown without trellises. Snap peas are used like green beans in cooking and raw snap peas are often eaten as finger food.

Cabbage, Pepper

Napa cabbage grows well in Mississippi, but most varieties make a 5-pound head. Mini-Napa cabbages make a more useful 3- or less-pound head in a shorter period of time. Early Jade and Tenderheart are two mini-varieties available from mail order.

Hot pepper fans take note: there is a new champion. A Carolina Reaper pepper has been certified as the world’s hottest pepper by the Guinness Book of World records with more than 2.2 million Scoville units. This dethrones the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which had been the first pepper to exceed 2 million Scoville units.

To put things in perspective, Habanero peppers have less than a half million, cayenne 50,000, Jalapeno 5,000 and pepperoncini 500 Scoville units. Seeds for Carolina Reaper are on sale on e-bay.

Remember to shred and plow in your cover crop about a month before planting your spring vegetables. The time allows the cover crop to decompose and release nutrients for the vegetables. You can harvest the daikon radish roots and just plow in the tops.

Insulating Plants

Insulating plants from cold temperatures and desiccating winds is the easiest way to protect them. I spent the better part of one day cutting down my ornamental grasses and using the “hay” to cover the areas where my bananas, elephant eats and other cold-tender perennial plants are located. You could use evergreen boughs from pine, cedar or junipers to cover the areas as well.

For shrubs, just covering with a sheet of plastic is not enough — besides where the plastic touches the plants is a potential area for freeze damage. If possible use lawn chairs or other structures to hold the blanket or cover off the foliage of the shrubs — building an insulating tent is the idea.

I used our old Christmas tree for this purpose by placing it next to a large shrub I wanted to protect. I then used some limbs I had pruned from some young oak trees, as well as some pine boughs, to build a framework around the other sides of the shrub. Then I covered it all with a lightweight blanket and then a tarpaulin — all weighed down around the edges with pots or bricks. Some people place an incandescent bulb or heater under the tent. I really discourage this because of the potential fire hazard.

Protecting broadleaf evergreen foliage from cold winds when the ground is frozen is important to help prevent damage to the foliage. Cold winds rob the plant of moisture and with the ground frozen the plant cannot take up enough water to replenish the plant and prevent damage to the leaves.

Anything that will divert the wind or protect the plant from these cold winds is a good idea.

Sometimes in spite of our best efforts we just cannot protect all our plants. If you suspect freeze of wind chill damage DO NOT try to thaw the plant or the ground. Let nature take its course. You will be able to assess the damage when temperatures warm. Sometime damage is not really apparent until plants begin new growth in the spring. Better to just wait and see before doing any pruning or other maintenance to your plants.