How to protect plants from frost and other natural elements

Help your plants survive cold and wet winter nights.

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Winter is one of the most challenging times to keep your garden healthy. Typical plants and shrubs usually harden or seem lifeless during this season. Ensuring frost protection for plants is vital, but it differs based on what's in your garden. This guide will provide some general tips on helping your plants survive cold and wet winter nights.

How to protect plants during winter

There will be different levels of winter protection for plants, depending on their unique characteristics. For example, some plants will easily survive winter with little maintenance, while others require much TLC. The best winter trees and shrubs in the UK include:

  • Silver birch
  • Holly 
  • Hawthorn 
  • Bluebell bulbs
  • Violas

With that in mind, here's how to protect your garden from varying natural elements.

Step 1: Keep your plants away from the wind and rain

potted plants on a windowsill during winterWind and rain are the most significant issues in winter and can wreak havoc on specific plants. The primary problem is over-saturation from heavy rain, which causes root rot and soil erosion. In addition, strong winds can cause cold damage and dehydration, uprooting plants and knocking over pots.

If you have any Mediterranean herbs in your garden, try to provide shelter for them, as they hate excess moisture. If you have a greenhouse, great! Otherwise, bring them into the house, where they will keep growing over winter. Conservatories are another excellent option for keeping your plants safe from the elements. 

It's good to move your vulnerable plants to a spot beneath an awning, protecting them from possible hail damage. However, moving plants isn't always practical on rainy days. You can combat waterlogging by raising pots off the ground. Moreover, perhaps it's time to check your gutters for dirt or leaf buildup. Clean gutters significantly contribute to the efficiency of your garden's drainage system, directing runoff or excess water away from your plants.

Step 2: Shield your plants from the frost and snow

When it gets really cold, note that some plants are root-not-shoot hardy. This means they wither to the ground at first frost, but the roots will survive and create new shoots next year. Examples of these tenacious winter plants are dahlias and gladioli.

Any pot plants that go dormant, like begonias or tender fuchsias, can still thrive in a dark shed during winter. Pot plants that are still green will need light, so you can store them in a greenhouse or put them on a windowsill inside your house.

Additional tips on how to protect plants from frost and snow:

Add mulch

Tender plants love mulch over their roots because it provides another layer of warmth. You can use garden compost, leaf mould, or wood chippings, all of which offer soil nutrients while helping to retain water.

Use a frost cover for plants

Find a dedicated frost cloth or horticultural fleece you can temporarily put over your plants and pots. Like us, plants will benefit from a "jacket" in winter!

See also: Best vegetables to grow in winter

Step 3: Provide food and shelter for pollinators

butterflies on a frost-covered plantRemember that your garden isn't just yours. Pollinators, including bees, butterflies, and some birds, enjoy it and might even call it home! For this reason, help these tiny housemates during winter by providing them with some food or shelter. 

Consider leaving flowers, seed heads, fallen fruit, and other dead growth in your yard. Another solution is to grow ivy on your property. It looks great in gardens and provides a nectar source for late-flying insects and birds throughout the winter.

See also: Perennial, annual, and biennial plants: How are they different?

Prepping your garden for winter

Frost protection is the main priority when preparing your garden for winter. But if you need to do other maintenance tasks before the cold sets in, connect with our garden Taskers! You can easily find help for yard work or rubbish cleanup and quickly complete your checklist of winter chores.

We also recommend checking out our Gardening Hub for various resources on making your garden look its best, regardless of the weather.

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FAQs on frost protection for plants

You can buy specific horticultural covers to protect your plants from frost in the winter, or you can go DIY and use sheets of old newspaper and cloth of old bed coverings.

We recommend looking up the first frost dates for your area to determine when the weather is beginning to change. This is the best time to cover or protect your plants from frost. PlantMaps is a great online resource to determine these dates.

Yes, you can use plastic to protect plants from frost, but try to avoid anything too heavy, such as vinyl or tarpaulin. Anything that isn't very breathable might trap moisture, so prioritise fabric or paper over plastic.

In the UK, light frost begins at around about -2 to -3°C, which can cause foliar damage to some plants. So start covering your plants when the temperature is around 0°C.

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