Winter Armor: Protect Your Plants and Pocketbook

It’s not uncommon during hard freezes to see yard after yard with gardens and shrubs blanketed with quilts, bed sheets, and garbage bags meant to protect plants from frost damage.

But is covering plants with household items really the best way to keep them alive during freezes? Not necessarily. 

Don't Fear the Frost | Vego Garden

Covering plants does have value, but what you use—and how—makes a difference. And sometimes other options, like placing a structure over your plants, are even more effective.

While you can’t always prevent frost damage, taking a strategic approach to protecting your plants can, at least, increase their chances of survival. Making that effort is worth it.

“First of all, it helps plants recover more quickly in the springtime,” Vego Garden Horticulturalist Carol Childres said. “It makes for healthier, stronger plants.”

Frost-protection measures can also safeguard the financial investment you’ve made in your garden, from your trees to your vegetables and flowers.

Plan Ahead

Your most effective frost-protection measures won’t necessarily take place in winter. They start when you select your trees and plants. Whenever possible, aim for native species, which have adapted to your area’s soil and climate.

“If you have plants native to the region you’re in, they’re going to come back from a frost more quickly,” Childres said.

Another worthwhile strategy is to do as much as you can to keep your plants healthy year-round. Wherever they’re from, they’ll be better able to withstand winter frost if they’ve been properly fertilized and watered during the spring, summer, and fall. 

Water and Other Natural Solutions

That’s not to say plants from other regions or stressed plants don’t stand a chance when a freeze hits. Again, no guarantees, but there are steps you can take to help them.

Childres recommends starting by watering your plants’ soil (not the plants themselves). Generally, when well-watered ground freezes, it doesn’t go below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning the plants’ roots will be less likely to be damaged.

Don't Fear the Frost | Vego Garden

Another defense against frost damage is compost topped with natural mulch, not dyed. The compost supports your plants’ health, and the mulch provides a natural armor for their roots.

To protect your trees, for example, Childres suggests gently working a half-inch layer of compost into the soil around their bases. Top the compost with a protective layer (about two inches) of store-bought mulch or materials from your yard like pine needles and dead leaves. 

Frost Cloths

In situations when you want to cover trees and plants completely, frost cloths are an excellent choice.

It allows light, water and air to pass through, and also radiates trapped heat from the sun and soil to create a warm environment for your greenery. 

The thicker the cloth, the more effective — and less vulnerable to tearing — it will be.

Sheltering in Place…Or Somewhere Nearby

If you want to go a step further, you can build a structure known as a cold frame over your plants with frost cloth (or another barrier) clipped onto a frame (possibly PVC pipe, trellises, or fencing). 

“It protects plants from the frost, but it allows airflow around them,” Childres said. “It gives you a workable space, and it’s easy to open and close.”

Another option is to cover a plant with a large landscaping pot with a frost cloth draped over it. If temperatures go above freezing during the day, you can flip up the cloth, and the pot’s drainage hole will provide extra air circulation.

In addition to setting up protection where your plants are, in some cases, you can move your plants altogether. You can carry potted plants inside and use rolling beds, carts, and even wheeled tree planters to get your plants to a building before a freeze.

Don't Fear the Frost | Vego Garden

So, yes, think about covering your plants the next time a freeze is predicted — but if you take the time to select the most effective strategies and materials available, your plants will have a much better chance of making it through the winter.


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