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

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

Small Contemporary Urban Garden

Neither. Don’t use chipped mulch OR shredded mulch. Both of those will rob the precious nitrogen from the ground that your plants need.

Nitrogen is vital for healthy plants because it’s a major component of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the compound by which plants convert sunlight into sugars from water and carbon dioxide. Nitrogen is also a major component of amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins.

Plants are unable to use or take nitrogen directly from the atmosphere. They must uptake it through nitrogen forms that include ammonium and nitrate.

So, what should you use instead of chipped or shredded mulch? Composted mulch!

This is from my Quora answer: https://www.quora.com/Which-is-better-for-plants-chipped-mulch-or-shredded-mulch/answer/Matt-Harvey-84

Which is better for plants, chipped mulch or shredded mulch

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.

Do I need to clean my pruning shears? How Do I prevent rust and bacteria from developing on my secateurs?

how to clean gardening shears

Do I need to clean my pruning shears? How do I prevent rust and bacteria from developing on my secateurs?

From cutting away branches and pruning shrubs to gently snipping a beautiful flower to display in a vase, your shears can be one of the most important tools in your garden.

The one thing you don’t want is to spread harmful diseases, eggs and bacteria from plant to plant.

The blades of your shears can easily start to rust, become dirty, become sticky with sap and develop bacteria that can infect your healthy plants, however this can be prevented with these simple and helpful tips.

Use a stiff brush with a bucket of warm soapy water. Washing-up liquid works best, it is easy to rinse off and doesn’t leave a harsh chemical residue on the blades.

Use steel wool If the blades have started to rust. Sandpaper can be used as well.

After washing and rinsing, soak your shears for a few minutes in a pail of water mixed with a spoonful of bleach to destroy bacteria, eggs and other harmful organisms on your blades.

After soaking, dry them well with a cloth or air dry them.

Once they are dried, spray lubricating oil on them to prevent them from rusting.

Make sure to keep your shears hung and out of the elements when not in use.

Follow these simple steps and you will find this valuable garden tool will provide you with many, many years of quality service.

Helpful tips for easy gardening with hassle free plants

Some plants are high maintenance and even though they may be beautiful, they are not always worth the time and money you may need to spend on them.

There are many great plant choices for a low maintenance garden or patio.

Try to avoid plants which require stakes, netting, support strings, etc. Delphiniums are just one example of these high maintenance plants.

Hostas are just one of the many plants that rabbits and slugs love. Try to find plants that don’t taste delicious to pests and you will save yourself time and headache. Send us a message if you’d like advice on pest free plants. 

Plants that climb can become very burdensome. Vine plants like ivy cling to walls and if not controlled, will take over walls, fences and other plants. Also clinging plants may need support which means lots of tying.

Shrubs, Daphne, Lavender, Holly and Euonymus are great choices for low maintenance plants and they alternate their colours throughout the seasons making your garden area beautiful and ever changing. You can also keep them in pots to easily transfer them inside when you like.

You can save yourself time and headache with a watering system. Whether you choose a top of the line automated system or a simple leaky hose setup which lets the water seep out along your plant beds you will find your plants are happy and you are happy.

Pergolas, arbours, arches, statues and fences can be relatively simple to install and may not be as expensive as you think. They can liven up a garden or patio dramatically and may even be used to block unsightly views like breaker boxes. They have the added bonus of not requiring extra maintenance on your part.

Have a bad back? Use long tables with potted plants or have raised beds for easy, bendless gardening.

Of course if you’re looking for one of the easiest and quickest ways to spruce up your garden you should consider getting plants that are already potted. Pick them up from your local garden centre, place in your garden, job done!

When you’re ready to update your garden, give us a call or send us a message, We’ll be glad to help.

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Should I add diseased plants to my compost?

That’s a great question. According to gardenorganic.org.uk, some diseased plants can be added to your compost, however, plant materials suffering from soil-borne diseases such as clubroot and white rot should not be added to a compost heap.

Anything else can be safely composted in a hot heap. Diseases that don’t need living matter to survive, such as grey mould, mildews, and wilts, may survive in a cold heap.

But heat is not the only factor that will kill diseases: the intense microbial activity in a compost heap also helps to dispose of them. Some diseases, such as tomato and potato blight need living plant tissue to survive and will not last long without it. It is fine to add foliage suffering from these diseases to your hot or cold compost heap. If in doubt, leave it out. Problem materials can be sent to your local council green waste recycling facility where the composting methods are hot enough to kill any problem organisms.

that don’t need living plants to survive – grey mould, mildews, wilts – may survive in a slow, cool heap. But heat is not the only factor that will kill diseases – the intense microbial activity will also help to dispose of them.

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Can diseased plants be put in compost

Image courtesy of gardenseason.com

What are adelgids and how do I get rid of adelgids?

Conifers are a tree that bears cones and evergreen needlelike or scalelike leaves.  If you have conifer trees you may have to worry about Adelgids, which are are aphid-like insects that suck the sap from conifers.

Adelgid infestation close up zoomed in
woolly adelgid infestation Photographed by Michael Montgomery

Adelgids can cause distortion of shoots, affecting the appearance of trees. Yellow, winged adults leave galls in late summer and lay eggs on host plants. The nymphs soon hatch and overwinter close to buds. In spring these nymphs feed on plant sap but do not cause galls, maturing into light green wingless females. These females lay eggs covered in white waxy threads. The nymphs hatching from these eggs induce the galls when they feed at the base of needles. The galls contain numerous chambers within which groups of pale orange nymphs develop.

Adelgids only lay eggs, and never give birth to live nymphs as aphids do. Adelgids are covered with dense woolly wax. A complete adelgid life cycle lasts two years.

Adelgid nymphs are known as sistentes, and the overwintering sistentes are called neosistens.

Rain can kill adelgids by dislodging eggs and sistentes from trees.

So now that you know a bit more about adelgids, let’s discuss the reason why you’re probably reading this:

How do I get rid of adelgids?

The damage adelgids cause is often minor and can usually be tolerated, however, if you wish to remove adelgids from your plants, here are a few suggestions.

Adelgids can be difficult to kill with insecticides as they’re protected by waxy secretions. In addition it’s only feasible to treat adelgids on trees that are small enough to be sprayed thoroughly. It’s quite difficult to deal with  infestations on very tall trees.

hemlock wooly adelgid-bug macro microscope

The following insecticide information is from the RHS

  • Organic sprays, such as natural pyrethrum (e.g. Bug Clear Gun for Fruit & Veg, Defenders Bug Killer, Ecofective Bug Killer (also contains fatty acids)), fatty acids (e.g. Solabiol Bug Free, Doff Greenfly & Blackfly Killer) or plant oils (e.g. Vitax Organic Pest & Disease Control, Origins Bug Control) can give some control of adelgids. These pesticides have a very short persistence and so may require reapplication to keep adelgid numbers in check
  • More persistent insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Pest Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Pest Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. Py Bug Killer)
  • The systemic neonicotinoid insecticide acetamiprid (e.g. Bug Clear Ultra) can also be used

The College of Agriculture, Food and Environment offers some clever ideas for controlling and eliminating adelgids including:

Spraying foliage with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil at the proper times during the HWA life cycle.

Using a systemic insecticide that moves with the tree sap and is consumed by the adelgids as they feed. 

There are three main methods for introducing insecticides including trunk injection. soil injection and soil drenching.

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