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How To Protect Plants From Frost: A Guide For Savvy Gardeners

How To Protect Plants From Frost: A Guide For Savvy GardenersPhoto from Pexels

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It’s that time of year again: the weather is getting colder, and we’re all beginning to think about how we protect plants from frost. Fail to do so, and you may end up with some very sad-looking plants come springtime!

Horticultural garden fleece and plant jackets will most certainly keep your plants toasty this year, but there are plenty of other options to try too.

Luckily, our gardening experts at William James have come together to share their top tricks and tips to protect plants from frost this winter.

Are there any tips on this list that surprise you?


What Is Frost & How Is It Formed?

Frost is simply a deposit of white crystals on the ground or other surfaces, formed when water vapour in the air changes directly to ice.

The freezing point of water varies depending on how much contamination there is but generally speaking; water freezes at 0 Celsius.

The key thing about frost is that the colder it gets, the more damaging it can be. Plants will start to feel the impact of a freezing night and need protection; at lower temperatures, the damage increases exponentially.

It’s essential to protect plants from colder temperatures in winter because the damage caused can be irreparable.

When Does Frost Occur In The UK?

Typically speaking, frost occurs between October and March in the UK. However, any time the temperature drops below freezing point, and there’s a wind chill factor involved, you should protect your plants from frost.

The north of the UK tends to get colder weather than the South, which means gardeners in the North often have more of a job on their hands when it comes to protecting plants from frost!

What Causes A Cold Snap?

A cold snap is an abrupt drop in temperature which lasts for two or three days, typically between October and March. These occur due to large pockets of cool air moving across the UK from the north – these are known as a Polar vortex.

In addition to this, cold air drifts over the UK at night from the North Sea and can cause a sudden drop in temperature.

Therefore, its vital that you take steps to protect your plants in cold weather, especially tender and young plants.


How Does Frost Damage Plants?

Frost is a plant’s worst enemy as it causes irreparable physical and chemical changes. Plants are made up of cells filled with watery sap that circulates nutrients around the plant.

When these cells freeze, they can rupture and burst, causing permanent damage to your plants’ cell walls.

This results in what’s known as ‘frost burn’, which causes browned or blackened leaves on both evergreens and deciduous plants.

Another obvious result of unprotected plants being exposed to freezing temperatures overnight will be dead or discoloured foliage, but that’s not the end of the story.

If left for too long, your plants could also suffer root damage or death, leading to further problems in the future.

Taking the time to protect plants from frost damage as part of your Winter gardening jobs will prevent these symptoms and ensure you have healthy flowerbeds come springtime!

How Should I Protect Plants From Frost?

Protecting plants from frost is one of the top jobs if you’re gardening in October. There are many different ways to protect your garden plants from freezing temperatures over winter, depending on the type of plant you look after and how much damage your plants can sustain.

The first step is ensuring that the soil around any plant roots doesn’t freeze – freezing soil creates expansive pockets of water, which drain energy and nutrients away from vulnerable root systems causing permanent damage.

This isn’t usually a problem for plants in small pots, but for larger plants, you’ll need to protect the soil from freezing by covering it with a thick layer of mulch – this will help insulate the root system and ground.

If you have a greenhouse or glasshouse, protect your plants from frost by making sure that at least ten centimetres of warm air is above the plant.

In an outdoor garden, this can be achieved using horticultural fleece or plastic sheeting – make sure to secure it properly with pegs and use enough layers so that no light penetrates through the plant.

Where possible, protect your plants from frost at night by bringing them inside or covering any outdoor pots – even something as simple as a sheet of thick cardboard will protect the leaves overnight.

  • If your garden is susceptible to heavy bouts of frost, protect against it by covering up vulnerable shrubs and trees with sheets or blankets overnight; this will prevent them from sustaining any severe damage. Do not wrap the sheet all the way around a tree or shrub, as it can cause damage to new growth that may have cracked.
  • If your garden is particularly frost-prone, protect against heavy frosts by placing a thick layer of mulch over exposed roots and stems before covering them with straw, leaves or bark chips. Be sure to protect the mulch from being blown away by heavy winds, so secure it in place with stones or plant pots.
  • If your house is particularly cold, protect against light frost on windowsills and other surfaces with sheets of plastic or even newspapers – this will prevent ice from forming between panes of glass. This will protect your plants from frost damage and prevent condensation in the winter, which can cause damp.


How To Protect Trees From Frost?

Like plants, trees are susceptible to frost damage – the most common being ‘frost cracks’ or ‘sun scalds’. Frost cracks occur when the sap in a tree’s trunk freezes and expands, causing the bark to split.

Sun scalds happen when the sun heats the bark during the day, causing it to expand. When the temperature drops at night, the bark contracts and can crack.

To protect trees from frost damage, you should:

  • water them well before a cold snap to help them withstand the frost
  • wrap the trunks of young trees in horticultural fleece or bubble wrap to insulate them
  • cover the roots with a thick layer of mulch
  • place a stake next to any leaning trees to support them if they should crack under the weight of the frost.

What Are The Most Common Plant Frost Protectors?

You have a few options if you want to protect your plants from frost, depending on the types of plants you grow and the type of garden you have.

A balcony garden with potted plants needs a different approach to a low-lying vegetable garden where plants are grown directly in the ground.

  • For small plants or pots, protect against frost with a sheet of thick cardboard – you can also use old newspapers for this purpose. If using newspaper, make sure to protect it from the wind, so it doesn’t get blown away and cover the plant in mulch before putting down your protectors.
  • Heated water bottles – if you’re on a budget, hot water bottles offer flexible protection for the whole night and can be moved around easily in small areas. They can protect plants from frost and cold snaps but need to be replaced every day/night.
  • On the opposite end of the price range, water sheets can protect plants from as low as minus 23 degrees. They’re easy and quick to install but also very heavy, so they need a lot of anchoring into place.
  • Electric plant protectors – perfect for covering larger areas, electric protectors are a good option for covering many plants at once.
  • The best way to protect plants from frost damage is by using plant frost jackets and horticultural fleece – these protect your garden from very low temperatures and are simple to use and easy to move around depending on where they need to be used.
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