An unexpected frost in the fall can quickly wreak havoc on your garden. It is especially damaging to tender plants that are too sensitive to withstand sudden temperature changes. Even in the fall, when we are trying to harvest as much as possible, frost can force established plants to go dormant and become unproductive. Therefore, you should protect sensitive plants from the cold.
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How to protect sensitive plants from the cold
A little vigilance and a few supplies can make a big difference in protecting sensitive plants from cold. Check out some effective tips to help you save your plants.
Bring potted plants indoors
If frost is predicted, wait until dusk to bring your potted plants and hanging baskets indoors. Plants in containers are more susceptible to frost damage because they don’t benefit from the insulating effect of the soil as ground plants would. Potted plants are much more susceptible to root damage at lower temperatures.
Choose a place that is not too warm – as sudden temperature changes can spook plants – such as a spot in the garage, shed or basement. Examine plants thoroughly for pests and diseases before bringing them indoors. Keep them separate from your houseplants to prevent the possible spread of pests.
Water plants in the afternoon
It may seem counterintuitive, but keeping the soil moist can help protect delicate plants from the cold. Moist soil has an insulating effect that radiates heat upward as night falls. If you water plants before a cold snap, do so during midday when temperatures are still somewhat warm.
Apply a thick layer of mulch
Like a sweater you put on during cold days, a layer of mulch on your beds will protect the soil from sudden temperature changes. Use straw, wood chips, leaf mold or even just a pile of leaves to insulate the root system of plants below ground. Mulch the soil to a depth of 8 to 15 inches to create a good barrier. Leave an inch or two open around the central stem to allow the heat of the soil to penetrate up through the plant. Although mulching your garden beds is one of the best things you can do to keep maintenance low, you will want to remove some of this protective mulch once the weather warms up.
Cover individual plants with a cloche
A cloche is a bell-shaped cover made of plastic or glass that keeps smaller plants warm and cozy in cold weather. You can buy plastic garden cloches and reuse them as needed during harsh weather. If you’re in a pinch, you can use many things in your household as cloches. An upside down bucket or flower pot would do the trick. If you use cloches for frost protection, put them over your plants just before dark and uncover them in the morning so they can benefit from the warmth and energy of the sun.
Protect sensitive plants from the cold with blankets
To protect a larger group of plants, simply cover them with blankets, sheets, towels or cloths. Before spreading out the fabric, place several stakes around the plants so that a tent-like structure is created when covering them. Drop the material all the way to the ground over the plants. Do not tie it around the trunk or stems of the plants or the heat from the soil will not radiate up through the plant.
Weigh down the corners and edges with heavy stones or bricks to keep the covers from blowing away at night. If you install the covers just before dark, you will need to remove them first thing in the morning the next day. If you always have to deal with frost in your garden, invest in special reusable and breathable frost covers that can be cut to the right size.
Wrap your trees
Younger trees, between 1 and 4 years old, are much more susceptible to frost damage, which can really kill them. Citrus trees are especially sensitive to frost and should be protected when temperatures drop to -2 degrees. To protect trees from the cold, wrap their trunks with towels, blankets, cardboard, rags or pipe insulation. You can also use burlap or felted tree covers.
Start at the base of the log and wrap all around, making sure the layers overlap a few inches. Continue in this manner until you reach the lowest branches of the tree. Secure the wrap to the tree with some string or weatherproof tape. If temperatures reach -3° C for an extended period of time, place a layer of plastic wrap over the wrapping for additional protection from frost.
How to plant a more frost-tolerant garden.
Save yourself the panic and grief of losing your flowers, trees and plants to sudden frost by planning your garden accordingly. Plants that are native to your region are much better adapted to the temperature fluctuations in your habitat. When planning your garden, avoid planting frost-sensitive plants in low-lying areas and in soil depressions that create frost pockets. As warmer air rises and cooler air sinks, frost-sensitive plants should be planted in higher areas, raised beds or containers that can be easily brought indoors during cold weather.