Gardening in the Rogue Valley can be a real challenge.

Newcomers often think it should be easy, because we have hot summer days, but we veterans can tell them that one must always keep our erratic weather in mind in order to be successful.

Recent chilly nighttime temperatures tell us to be vigilant about the possibility of frost. Although our average date of a first frost on the valley floor is Oct. 18, that's an average -- it could occur sooner or later. If you live at a higher elevation, I'd plan on sooner. Here are a few tips on how to protect your plants from a nip of frost.

Veggies with the most need of protection from frost include tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons, cucumbers and beans. Even a light touch of frost will blacken them. Some flowers, such as fuchsias and begonias, are very frost-sensitive, too. Root vegetables and most greens can withstand a light frost, with no harm done.

Don't you hate it when you are sitting and watching the evening news, and hear that frost is predicted, and you have to frantically jump into action to save your crop? To be prepared, gather and keep handy a stack of old sheets, blankets, large towels, and tablecloths, plus some sheets of plastic and newspapers. For tall plants, old fitted sheets are especially useful. Thrown over the entire plant in the evening, any of these items will trap enough heat from the ground, and from the plant itself, to protect it from a light frost.

Add to your "frost kit" some pillowcases to slip over potted plants, clothespins to hold in place sheets wrapped around plants, and tape to make a long "blanket" of newspapers. Know where to quickly locate some bricks or large stones if edges of the protection sheets need to be held down. Unused large pots or plastic garbage cans can be upended over plants or containers, too.

If you have a plant in a hanging basket, hanging it on a porch light (leaving the light on, to provide heat) will often be enough to protect it. Open an old umbrella over a container plant. If you have a picnic table on a concrete patio, put potted plants under it, and throw a blanket or plastic sheet over the table. If convenient, just pull large containers into a garage, shed, or porch for the night.

Did summer camping damage your small tent? It can serve as a place to set pots of plants to protect them from frost. If you are fortunate enough to have an old pup tent without a floor, you can protect several plants at once, without having to move them.

Whichever of these methods you use, be sure to remove it in the morning. Sun shining on a plastic-enclosed plant will do lots more harm than light frost!

Coming up: Home Winemaking is the focus of two classes taught by Gabriel Balint, Oregon State University Viticulturist and Enologist.

The class for beginners is two-part, Monday Sept.17 and Friday, Sept. 21. Both classes run from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. The advanced class, also two-part and also at SOREC, is from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24 and Friday, Sept. 28; participants must have completed the beginner's class. Each pair of classes is $50; pre-registration and pre-payment are required. Call 541-776-7371.

On Saturday, Sept. 22, Master Gardener Denny Morrelli will hold a free composting workshop at SOREC. The workshop is from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The workshop covers basic composting methods so that participants can make high quality compost at home. Bring gloves, eye protection, and a particle mask for your safety, as using a shredder will be demonstrated.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at