As the seasons change, so too must your own personal gardening practices. Depending on the time of year, different gardening challenges may present themselves. One common issue that every gardener must wrestle with is the potentially disastrous effects of a bad frost.
If you’re an avid gardener such as myself, you’ve undoubtedly experienced the damaging effects frost can have on your garden. An unexpected coldspell in the fall or early spring months can spell instant disaster for your plants.
Luckily, this doesn’t have to be the case. I’ve created a guide for you to learn how to protect your plants from frost. By keeping this information in mind, you should be able to avoid any frost related disasters.
Closeup photo of frost. Frost occurs when water vapor in the air freezes on a surface.
What Is Frost?
“Frost” is a thin layer of ice that forms when water vapor in the air reaches freezing point and settles on a surface.
Frost is a very common occurrence, especially in cooler climates. Plant species that are local to these climates are usually strong enough to withstand frost. However, plants from warmer climates are at a much higher risk of dying if faced with an unexpected frost.
Frost is most common in the early spring and late fall. In the early spring, frost can be incredibly damaging for your new seedlings. In the late fall, frost can potentially damage your sensitive perennials.
Frost can also harm bushes or sensitive trees that are not equipped to handle the cold. As such, It’s important to prepare your garden for the upcoming frost of either season.
Frost forming on leaves. While there are plenty of frost resistant species, many other plants can be badly damaged from frost.
How can I Protect my Plants from Frost?
While frost can be devastating to your garden, there are a few ways in which you can prevent damage as a result of frost.
Keep Track of the temperature
The likelihood of frost is dependent on the outside temperature and the “dew point”. If you want to predict when there will be a frost, look up your local weather forecast to keep track of temperature and frost warnings. This will make it much easier to know when to prepare your plant protection. During seasons where there is a high probability of frost forming, I always make sure to check the weather daily to keep track of the risk. You can even download weather apps to get alerts directly on your phone.
Find out how frost resistant your plants are
One way to prevent frost damage to your garden is figuring which of your plants are vulnerable. Depending on where the plant originates, it may already be frost resistant. This makes it easier to narrow down which of your plants need to be shielded from frost. That way, you can provide proper protection to the areas of your garden that are vulnerable.
If you live in a climate where frost is unavoidable, you will have to do research about each of your plants so you can prepare yourself accordingly. Most home and garden centers can provide you information on the frost resilience of the plants you are purchasing.
If you’d like to lower the risk of frost damage in your garden, you can opt to fill your garden with frost resistant flowers that thrive during the fall.
Pansies are an example of a hardy, frost resistant plant that are a great addition to any garden.
Bring your potted plants indoors
If you have any outdoor plants kept in pots, it may be best to bring them in before the first frost warning in the fall. Make sure to keep track of the weather, and try your best to bring your potted plants indoors as soon as the risk of frost presents itself.
In the springtime, only bring out your potted plants after the last frost of the season. While the sunny, warm weather may tempt you to bring out your pots early, make sure to wait until the frost warning has been lifted.
If you’d like some ideas on how you can help your plants thrive indoors, you can learn tips on how to care for plants indoors.
Cover your plants with the proper apparatus
If you have plants that are vulnerable to frost, you may want to consider investing in the proper equipment to protect them. You can protect your plants from frost by creating a barrier between them and the open air. The trick is to lay out your protection at night, as frost usually forms overnight. Then, you can remove your coverage the next morning when the risk of frost has subsided. There are many different coverage options you can choose from, depending on what works best for you:
1. Plastic Sheet
An example of the types of plastic sheets you can use to protect your plants from frost.
Placing a plastic sheet over your flowerbed is a good way to keep your plants insulated from the cold. Plastic sheets for garden insulation are readily available online, such as the one pictured here. However, if you opt to use a plastic sheet, you have to make sure to use sticks to prop it up. This is because plastic can potentially damage plants. You can anchor the plastic to the ground using pegs or gardening staples.
2. Old bedsheets or thin blankets
If you’d like to avoid buying extra materials, you can recycle old sheets or blankets to create a protective layer for your plants. Material covers are also less likely to cause damage to plants compared to plastic sheets. These can also be held in place using pegs or gardening staples.
3. Burlap tarps
Burlap material is a great choice for protecting plants that are sensitive to the cold, such as the rose bush pictured here.
Burlap tarps are a great choice for protecting plants from frost. This hardy material is sure to keep your plants warm. Burlap can also be wrapped around the trunks of young or smaller trees to protect them from frost. Burlap is also a great choice of protection for bushes or shrubs that are sensitive to the cold.
4. Hard plastic containers
Hard plastic containers are a great choice to protect your plants from frost. In this picture, the gardener has used plastic cone containers to protect their young plants from frost.
For smaller plants and bushes, you can opt to use plastic containers as a cover. This is a great choice if you want to recycle old materials from around the house. You can convert old bins or other containers (such as water jugs) into coverage for plants.
Of course, you can also opt to buy them online or in gardening stores, where they are usually readily available. You can anchor these containers to the ground with soil or rocks.
Keep the water flowing
While it may seem counter intuitive, water is actually a good way to prevent frost damage. Keeping the soil around your plants moist actually prevents frost from forming. Frost is most likely to occur when your plants and the soil around them is cold and dry. By keeping your plants and the area around them wet, the chance of frost forming actually decreases .
Make sure to follow sowing instructions for new seeds
Nursery for young seedlings. Young plants are especially vulnerable to the frost, and as such need to be adequately protected from it.
When preparing to sow seeds in the springtime, it’s important that you take frost into heavy consideration before you begin planting. Many seeds require certain heat conditions to thrive, and should not be planted prior to the instructed timeframe. In fact, it may be a better idea to start seeds indoors, and only plant them outside once the risk subsides.
If you do opt to sow seeds outdoors earlier on in the season, you may want to consider preparing proper coverage from the frost to avoid damage. Seedlings are especially vulnerable to the frost. If you want to keep your garden healthy, make sure to use proper barriers against the cold.
Always cover vulnerable trees and bushes
Group of small trees wrapped in burlap. The burlap barrier protects them from frost. Their trunks and leaves are covered.
Your flowers and veggies are not the only plants in your garden that require protection. While bushes and trees native to your climate usually can withstand the local frost, more sensitive varieties require proper coverage.
As previously mentioned, Burlap is a great material to use to wrap about the bark and branches of vulnerable trees and bushes. Plants like rose bushes and citrus trees are especially vulnerable to frost, and as such need to be protected accordingly.
If you’d like extra guidance on how to properly protect your garden from frost, you can check out this informative video that further instructs you on where to get started:
With these tips in mind, you should be able to adequately protect your garden from the damages of frost. While an unexpected frost may sometimes be unavoidable, you can almost completely eliminate the risk by being properly prepared.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.