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Near-freezing temperatures and late-season frosts threatened Maryland’s crops, but they should be fine

Temperatures that dipped to near freezing in Maryland Wednesday morning, combined with a number of unseasonably late frosts this spring, put crops and gardens across the state in some jeopardy but they will likely survive, according to experts.

“Most of the state will probably have full crops. And a majority of the crops will be OK,” said Joseph Fiola, a specialist in Viticulture and Small Fruit at the University of Maryland Extension’s Western Maryland Research and Education Center in Keedysville.

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Wednesday’s low of 36 degrees tied a record low at Thurgood Marshall Baltimore Washington International Airport set in 1963 and 1996.

The low temperatures are unusual for this time of the year as the median date for the last spring freeze in Maryland is typically April 11, according to Luis Rosa, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Baltimore Washington Office.

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Rosa attributed the record-tying cold to a polar vortex that sent “shots of cold air into the region.” He added that Wednesday’s cold temperature was likely the last for a while.

“We’ll see a warming trend starting today. It will be 80 later this week,” he said. “Hopefully we will not be dealing with any more frost or freeze until the fall.”

Despite unusually cool temperatures this late in the year, crops in Maryland are expected to be successful, Fiola said.

“There has been some damage,” he said. “It’s been interesting. Overall, it has been fairly good.”

Of the state’s five freezes since April 11, none of them resulted in temperatures below 30 degrees, which Fiola said boded well for crops.

“The peaches will probably be ok. Apples, we’ll remain and see. Grapes have a lot of opportunities to compensate,” he said. “Most of the state will have most of their crops.”

And while Fiola is optimistic about this year’s crops, he also is somewhat cautious.

“It’s going to be hard to assess. We’ll have to see in the next week or two.”

Cold snaps this late in the season can affect gardens and farms—especially when it comes to cold-sensitive plants such as fig trees, tomatoes and basil, according to Neith Grace Little, a Baltimore City Extension Educator for Urban Agriculture with the University of Maryland Extension,

“Luckily, looking at the weather reports, the risk of frost in Baltimore City has been and remains relatively low. However we have had damaging frosts in the past couple of weeks at higher elevations in Maryland,” Little said.

Some of the damage to urban farms and gardens this year has been the result of people planting at the wrong time, according to Little.

Little has seen a lot of first-time home gardeners get a little “over-excited” and plant cold-sensitive vegetables earlier than recommended.

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“It’s understandable, because the winter was so warm,” she explained. “But late frosts like this are a good reminder to check planting date recommendations. Our Home and Garden Information Center has an excellent color-coded planting calendar that I highly recommend.”

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