How to protect plants from frost and what to do if they’re damaged.

how to protect plants from frost

A winter frost can be such a beautiful thing. White and sparkling like little diamonds. It can also be deadly for your plants.

When plants freeze, the water in the cells expand causing the cell walls to break. Since the cells of the plant carry the nutrient rich sap the plants require to live, the plant can die.

Frost can form when water vapour in cool air condenses into droplet of water that form dew on the ground and on your plants. Then, when the temperature drops below 0 °C, all this moisture freezes, creating those beautiful but deadly ice crystals.

There are three types of frost, including ground frost which covers the ground, trees and other objects that have a freezing or below temperature. This frost is also called the white frost.

Hoar frost is similar to ground frost in that it’s composed of ice crystals that formed in the same way as dew however the surface temperatures were already below freezing point. This type of frost will have a beautiful feathery appearance.

There’s also “air frost” which occurs when the temperature of the air is below the freezing point of water and at least a metre above the ground. This air frost damages plant stems, fruits and flowers and can even kill them. Occasionally you can have ground frost without having air frost If the ground freezes before the air does.

Not all plants will die all the time from frost. Some plants are much more hardy and their leaves and stems may survive. Evergreen trees and Evergreen bushes are a great example however even Evergreens and other hardy plants may be damaged or killed by extended periods of freezing, especially when the soil freezes. Frozen roots can no longer absorb water and the plant may die from thirst.

One way to tell if your plants have been damaged by frost is when the above ground parts of the plant may blacken. You can also expect to see wilting, damaged fruit, flowers and buds may become brown and drop to the ground.

By far, the most damaging frost is in the late spring. Plants with tender new growths are very susceptible to frost and quickly die.

You probably didn’t come here for a lesson on plant biology or an explanation of what causes frost. You want to gain some insight into how to protect your plants from frost. One of the first things I’d suggest is to include frost in your initial garden planning. If you live somewhere were frost may be a problem, pick hardy plants that are known to withstand the damaging effects of frost. You can ask your local garden centre which plants they would recommend for your area.

If you do choose plants that are susceptible to frost, try to plant them in against walls and shrubs or under trees to reduce wind and help protect them during the winter. If possible, do not plant your early flowering plants in the east facing section of your garden as the first warmth of the sun can quickly thaw them causing shock when the plants are unable to acclimate quickly. You can also leave old growth, leaves, etc. over your plants to help protect against frost. If you prune and cut back your plants in Autumn your new growths are more susceptible to frost. Remember that frost and cold air will descend to the lowest parts of your garden, so plan accordingly when planting tender plants.

If you have potted plants which you kept inside during the winter, take your time putting them back outside. Make sure there’s no chance of a surprise frost which could quickly kill them.

You can also use horticultural fleece [Amazon] [eBay] to protect your plants. To be doubly sure you can put a layer of straw, plant material or old leaves between two layers of the fleece to provide the best insulation against frost.

If you need to immediately protect your plants from frost, use an upturned bucket, bin or box to cover the plants. This is a quick protection however you must remember to uncover your plants later in the day so they get sunlight.

Some plants with flowering bulbs and perennials that die back can be covered with leaves, manure mulch or straw to prevent the soil from freezing. Make sure you remove the mulch in the spring or it may act as an insulator, trapping the coldness in the soil.

Even though Evergreens are hardy, you can protect them from ground frost with a thick layer of mulch. This will help prevent the roots from freezing under the soil which could cause the plant to become dehydrated.

[Which is better for plants, chipped mulch or shredded mulch?]

Cordylines, palms, small trees and ferns can be protected by wrapping the crowns and trunks layers of fleece stuffed with straw.

When using outdoor pots in the winter, make sure they are frost proof. Also, place pots on sticks or feet to prevent them from becoming waterlogged when the bottoms freeze to the ground. You can insulate the inside of your pots with a layer of hessian or even bubble wrap.

Here’s an interesting article by Andy McIndoeh about frost proof pots. www.learningwithexperts.com/gardening/blog/is-this-pot-frost-proof

My plants have frost damage, are they going to die? Now what do I do?

Even if your plants have been damaged by frost, they may survive and you can greatly assist them by minimising the frost damage.

In the spring cut back any damaged growth on your plants to encourage new growth. If your frost damaged plants are small enough, dig them up and bring them into your greenhouse. They may recover quickly.

According to the Doubleday Research Association; Giving your frost damaged plants liquid feed, such as Comfrey tea, will encourage new growth.

We would love to hear about your experiences with frost. Let us know if you have any good tips to share with our readers. Good luck!

how to protect plants from frost

The Beauty of Kent.

I found this interesting article from VisitKent.co.uk that I’d like to share, about the beauty of Kent.

In Kent, spectacular scenery invites great escapes. Make sure you get out and about to explore some of the county’s special landscapes.   

Beautiful bridge in Kent UK

A third of Kent is covered by Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, including the 878 sq km Kent Downs from the White Cliffs of Dover to London’s fringe – a liberating expanse rich in orchids, butterflies and big-horizon views. The High Weald AONB is a 560 sq mi patchwork of flower meadows, woodlands and rolling hills. Discover picturesque villages, oast houses and a wealth of wildlife, from dormice to nightjars.     

Kent’s unmissable White Cliffs are another remarkable landscape to explore. Events run by the White Cliffs Countryside Partnership range from coppicing and scrub-clearing to family strolls and nature rambles. There’s no charge for some trips – making for memorable free days out.

beautiful dover cliffs in kent uk

At Romney Marsh the earth meets the sea in a low-lying, unique landscape that delivers mind-expanding views. Explore its haunting beauty through the guided walks, cycle rides and events run by the Romney Marsh Countryside Project. The marshes of the Isle of Sheppey and the Hoo Peninsula provide even more wrap-around views.           

Bird and wildlife packs the chalky cliffs, caves and stacks of the Thanet Coast. Imaginative events run by the Thanet Coast Project include geology-themed beach rambles.

Kent’s rolling landscape is flecked with ancient forests, hushed magical places carpeted with bluebells, bracken and full of twisted trees. A highlight is Blean Woods, near Canterbury, at 11 square miles it’s the largest area of ancient woodland in England. Waymarked trails wind between the foliage, revealing everything from woodpeckers and tree creepers to orchids and artworks.  

Kent has countless other memorable natural places – the Kent Wildlife Trust runs a whopping 61 nature reserves while the 12 Kent Country Parks encompass riverbanks, grasslands, meadows and ancient woods. Meaning you’re never far from discovering your own special Kentish landscape.

So what do professional gardeners do in the winter months?

winter gardening tips frozen leaves kent

So what do professional gardeners do in the winter months?

It’s a question I get asked all the time. A lot of people assume there’s not a lot that can be done in the garden during the winter, however this couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact I have a little saying “what you don’t get done over winter, never gets done.”

The weather might be on the colder side, but it’s a great time to do some of the heavier tasks like digging over vegetable beds, as the ground will be a lot easier to work this time of year.

Don’t forget to protect your perennials during the cold winter months!

how to protect perennials during winter in the UK

Give all your borders a good mulch of compost at least 4 inches thick. This will protect your perennials from the worst of the winter frosts, feed the plants and enrich the soil. Best of all, when the weather eventually warms up, it will stop lots of the weeds. That’s got to be a winner.

garden tree in the winter maidstone kent

Tree work is always best done over winter, as the sap is down and the tree will be dormant. There’s also less disease floating around in the air that could get into fresh cuts and pass on diseases.

Also, with the leaves off of the trees you can better see the shape of the tree and what the branches are doing much easier.

Remember the three D’s: Dead, Diseased and Dying.

 Make sure to remove any branches that are rubbing together as this can also lead to disease and fungal infections.

winter frost berries on tree in maidstone

Lifting and dividing perennials is best left until the weather improves slightly however it’s a good idea to make notes, or take photos of your border in summer. Some perennials will be more dominant in the border than others and can take over if not kept in check. Simply dig them up and divide them. They can be moved to fill gaps in another part of the border or given away to friends and family. Who doesn’t love a free plant!

winter composting snow gardens.jpg

The compost bins will need looking at. Undoubtedly your good intentions of mixing them every few weeks and adding the right ratio of carbon and nitrogen have gone down the pan but don’t let that bother you. Just build a new bin and move the contents from the old one. Mix in equal measures of straw and grass clippings.

If you managed to make some decent compost last year now is the time to put all those lovely nutrients back into the beds. Your plants will thank you for it in the spring.

winter greenhouse cold weather agriculture

Another thing that tends to get forgotten about over winter is the greenhouse. I use mine to store all my tender plants that live in pots on the patio over summer. It’s important to remember fungus can thrive in warm moist conditions. The trick is to air it out on walmer days and give the glass a good clean with fungicidal wash before spring gets going.

If the winter isn’t  too cold you can use your greenhouse to grow winter salad, and to start seedlings.

Frosty cold fresh mornings in January and February are some of the best memories I have as a professional gardener. There is something magical about being out and about in the cold crisp air, and definitely a feeling of satisfaction when you eventually get home. There is plenty to be done over the winter months and a great deal of accomplishment knowing you have pushed the garden on to be even better when spring finally arrives.