“Oh the weather outside is frightful…” (cut to record scratching and you frantically running to ensure your plants have survived the cold). If you do not have a magic wand handy, below are some helpful tips for protecting your plants during these chilly winter months, and repairing plants that have already experienced some damage. Whether you are knee deep in snow or still strolling in shorts in a warmer winter climate, protecting plants from frost is easy and beneficial in aiding your plants’ growth when temperatures drop.
Understanding Your Plant’s Responses to Cold
Not every plant responds to the cold in the same way. Plant species, stage of growth, water content and general health are all factors in how to decide which plants need more protection than others. Typically, young plants or actively growing plants with flowers are the most sensitive to cold weather. Dehydrated plants are also very vulnerable to climate changes. Yet keep in mind that not all cold weather will damage plants. A mild change of temperature can actually harden the foliage of plants, protecting it from future, more damaging frosts. However, the colder the weather, the faster the temperature drops and the longer the plants stay out in the cold weather; the more extensive the plant damage.
Preventing Frost Damage
Prevention is paramount to ensure your plants survive colder temperatures. First, select plants that are the most susceptible to damage. Keep in mind that most vegetables, especially root vegetables and plants in the cabbage family, do not need to be covered and prefer as much sunlight as possible (except for potatoes). While young, dehydrated or actively growing plants with flowers should be covered immediately. Orchids, citrus plants and gardenias tend to be the most sensitive to cold weather. Therefore, make sure these are covered first, even if you are not expecting a frost.
If plants are in pots, the best way to prevent damage is to move them inside. Read Your Guide to Indoor and Windowsill Gardening for more information. If plants are rooted in the ground, use old blankets, sheets and burlap sacks and lightly drape them over your plants in the evening. Make sure to remove the covers in the morning so that each plant receives plenty of necessary sunlight. Stones, stakes or bricks can also be used to prevent covers from blowing off. Keep in mind that to avoid crushing the plant, avoid using heavy blankets or place wire around the plant to balance the weight. Comforters are not recommended as these can absorb too much moisture, inevitably damaging your plants.
Other great tricks to keep your plants warm is locating your plants on a cement patio, or placing rocks/bricks around the plant. The sun will heat up these materials, naturally and will keep your plants warmer. In the evening, placing holiday lights around your plants can also keep more warmth near your plants (bonus: pretty lights are so festive this time of year!).
How To Identify Damaged Plants
Common symptoms of damaged plants are dead or dormant leaves, fruits and flowers, and dieback of shoots, leaves and stems. As bad as it may look, no need to panic and immediately prune the damaged areas. Rather, wait until spring to prune. Warmth will continue to become trapped inside the damaged canopies and it’s best to leave them alone. Also, pruning may stimulate new growth, which will ultimately become damaged again in the winter months. In the spring, you should find that new growth will appear and it will become safe to prune and take out dead wood.
What plants do you plan on covering or taking inside this season?