You’re finally the owner of a luscious garden. However, as much as it gives you bounties of nature in spring and summer, you’ll need to make sure the plants are safe and sound during the cold and harsh winter months. If you need a crash course on how to protect your plants in winter, then you’re at the right place.
If this is the first time your garden is going through winter, you’ll undoubtedly make some mistakes, and lose some plants, no matter how meticulously you follow the instructions. Gardening isn’t something you can master just from reading instructions, I hope you know that by now. In the winter months, both wind and rain are your enemies.
Winter rain can stagnate around the root and cause rot. On the other hand, chilly wind can cause both cold damage and dehydration. While learning how to protect plants in winter, you need to keep both of these factors in mind. Here are some methods that would generally help you keep your plants safe in winter:
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Choose Plants That Can Withstand the Local Climate
Instead of thinking about how to save plants in winter, try to deck out your garden with native and hardy plants that would survive through the frost without giving you a lot of headache about winter plant protection. Choose plants suitable to your climate and plant them in well-drained soil.
Any gardener worth his or her salt would tell you what I just said. However, sometimes you might be tempted to go for a “tender” plant that doesn’t grow so well in your area, just for its aesthetic appeal. But remember the plants’ requirements. For example, roses need at least 5 hours of sunlight daily.
Would you be able to provide that during the winter months? The fact is, even if you want a tropical flavor in your garden, you can pick some hardy plants. Some cold-weather tropical plants are:
- Hardy evergreen yucca
- Japanese fiber banana
- Hardy sugarcane
- Soft shield fern
- Angel’s trumpet
- Chinese windmill palm
- Hardy hibiscus
Unless you’ve picked up a specifically hardy tropical plant, they tend to be quite susceptible to drops in temperature otherwise. Do not plant them straight into the ground, but do so in a container and then sink the container in a suitable place in your garden.
Right before a frost, pick up the container and move it indoors. If you have any tropical or otherwise tender plants on your patio, take them indoors as well. In case of vine plants that would not survive a frost, trim them and then take them inside. Let them go dormant in a dark area.
Make Sure to Harden Seedlings
Another measure you can take to protect your plants is to harden them when they’re seedlings. Start the process about two weeks before transplanting them. Place the pot containing the seedlings in a warm, shady spot in your garden that’s protected from the wind. Bring them indoors again in the evening. Doing so would prepare the seedlings for a tough winter.
Choose the Right Kind of Pot
In the case of potted plants, the container they’re placed in can contribute a lot to protect them from frost. Some containers are great for surviving a frost. On the other hand, some are terrible and should be avoided no matter how aesthetically pleasing they look.
For example, terra cotta and ceramic pots are very trendy nowadays, but they’re very unsuitable for winter. Untreated porous containers like these would crack easily during a frost. If you want to use them still, coat them in a layer of pool paint. This prevents moisture from getting into the pores. Hence, no cracking.
Ideal materials for containers to survive a frost would be concrete, plastic, metal, and other non-porous materials. If you’re looking for lightweight alternatives, foam or resin could be a good choice. Not only the material, but you should also consider the size of the pot.
Make sure the pot is large enough to accommodate the root ball and still leave ample space between the roots and the wall of the pot. The more space you can afford to give the plant, the more insulation from the cold it will enjoy. If you’re worried about insulation, you can cover the sides of the pot with styrofoam sheets or peanuts.
Add a Layer of Mulch
To keep the heat in the soil, mulching materials work well. You do not need to go and get expensive mulch for your garden. A few inches of dry leaves and hay could work just as well as wood mulch. A light mulch is more preferable because it would not end up getting packed easily.
Mulching prevents a very troublesome event that happens to gardens in winter, called soil heaving. During consequent thawing and freezing, the soil heaves, and the roots of the plants get exposed to the frost. Mulching prevents this from happening.
To make sure your mulching is even more effective, you can also fill up a pot with warm water and leave it on the mulch. The water would keep the mulch warm for a long time, and in turn, it will prevent your plant roots from freezing in the weather.
Cover Your Plants
Even if you don’t take any other measures to protect your plants in winter, make sure to cover them. But how to cover plants for winter? If you do it incorrectly, you might do more harm than good.
First off, you should know that there are quite a few ways of covering plants for winter. However, they all accomplish the same set of requirements- to keep your plants safe from frost and also to keep the plant safe using the soil’s heat. You should keep this in mind when covering your plants.
You can either wrap each plant with burlap or jute bags or just go for a big plant covering blanket to throw over a row of your plants. Black grower’s cloth is also a popular alternative, as it absorbs the heat from sunlight. Fleece blankets are also quite useful for this purpose.
While you’re wrapping fabric around individual plants, make sure to place a stake next to your plant and wrap both the plant and the stake with the fabric loosely, so the fabric isn’t too tight around the plant. You could also pad the cover with some dry leaves or hay to keep the heat in. Bubble wrap is also a great alternative for padding.
While you’re covering your plant this way, do not create a barrier between the soil and the plant, because the point is to help the plant acquire heat from the soil. Extend the material down to the soil on each side, do not leave any openings for heat to escape.
Cover the plants before nightfall- because the point is to keep the heat from sunlight in the soil. Remove the covers in the morning. Take care to wrap fruit tree trunks loosely with multiple layers of burlap, as their trunks tend to split because of frost. You could also use frost barrier fabric for such trees.
You can also cold frames, hoop houses, or even ready-made greenhouses to protect big groups of plants. Fill jars with warm water and leave them under the covers next to the plants- they will help keep the plants warm and safe. You can also use a cloche as a winter plant protector if the plants are small or medium in size.
Cloches are most often stiff covers made with glass or plastic that also look quite pleasant. If you’re using a plastic cloche, make sure to stake it down, so it doesn’t blow away in the wind. You can use makeshift covers as cloches as well. Inverted flower pots, bell jars, mason jars, baskets, milk jugs with the bottom removed- these all can be used as a cloche.
You might think I’m joking. But water plants a day before the frost arrives is a great idea. It will keep your plants’ roots healthy and safe from the effects of the frost. Throughout the winter, you should also take care to water your plants at least once a month. This will encourage healthy root growth.
Bring Containers and Water Plants Indoors
Potted plants are more vulnerable to frost because they cannot get warmth from underground. The roots are also exposed from the sides to the cold. Hence, it’s better to keep potted plants and hanging containers indoors while the weather isn’t suitable.
However, keep these plants isolated from your houseplants, and meticulously check for pests and diseases. And when you’re taking them in, don’t place them in a place that’s too warm. The rapid temperature change might shock them.
Place Plants in Groups
Protect plants in winter could be as simple as placing a bunch of plants together. Smart placement near other plants, benches, walls helps to prevent plants from being damaged by chilly winds. Dark structures absorb heat, so they could keep the plants nearby warm. While grouping the plants, place the hardiest plant on the outside of the group, and the most tender plants in the center.
Be Wary of Cold Pockets
How to protect plants from winter when your garden is working against you? Cold air pools into low areas. So if there are depressions in the ground, cold pockets will form in there. Any plants in these pockets will suffer greatly, and you’ll need to take greater measures to protect them. To detect cold pockets, not only should you look for depressions in the ground, but should also check the ground level temperature.
Keep the Air Moving
Winter plant protection becomes easier when you can chase away the cold wind and invite warmth. Using an electric fan set in a high place, you can successfully draw warmer air downwards. This circulation will be good for keeping your plants at a tolerable temperature.
Now that we have discussed the ways of how to protect your plants in winter, you can see for yourself which measures would be suitable for your garden and which would be redundant. Take care to not fill your garden with too many exotic plants, and once winter arrives, you should start by covering up your plants. Whether or not to take any other measures, that is totally up to you!