The winters these days may not be quite as harsh as we remember from our childhoods. The days of severe frosts and weeks of snow are well and truly over, but the occasional few days of extreme temperatures still do happen. For gardeners, being prepared for those few days is essential. There is nothing more heartbreaking than realising a frost has killed off your favourite plants which you lovingly planted in the spring. So, taking a few easy steps to protect your less hardy plants will mean that they are still there to enjoy when the warmer weather rolls around once more.
A frost damaged plant is obvious, even to a beginner gardener. The leaves will have turned black or brown and it will be very limp. The leaves and shoots may have taken on a translucent quality, almost waterlogged. It isn't the end of the world, as often they can be revived but prevention is always better than the cure.
Preventing frost damage
- Take into account the weather conditions in your area when choosing plants. Your garden centre should be able to advise on the more hardy plants.
- Always plant the more tender plants in sheltered spots – not just sunny spots as a plant which thaws out too quickly will also be damaged.
- Try to resist pruning young plants too much until after the frost season is over. The more foliage on the plant the more protected it will be.
- High nitrogen fertilizers encourage sappy growth on plants which will freeze more easily. Use other types of fertilizers on susceptible plants.
Protecting over the winter
- Garden centres will sell bales of fleece which are perfect for laying over plants which are trained against walls. It can also be used for wrapping around the trunks of young trees and ferns. Hessian stuffed with straw works in the same way.
- Bulbs which have died back at the end of summer can be protected by laying down a layer of mulch, leaves or straw. This will prevent the ground from freezing.
- Most plants will benefit from a thick layer of mulch around their base.
- Bring any container plants into the house or greenhouse.
- If it snows be sure to shake the excess from branches to prevent them from being broken by the weight.
- Always avoid walking on frosted or snow covered grass.
If the worst happens
- Most plants will recover eventually if you act quickly.
- Cut back any frosted areas to the closest healthy bud. Cover to prevent it happening again.
- Use a balanced fertilizer to encourage strong growth.
- Dig up any vulnerable plants and move them into pots for the greenhouse.
- Check the soil around the damaged plant to ensure it hasn't become hard and cracked. Heap the soil up around the plant to prevent any roots from showing.
It may seem like the last thing you want to do on a cold wintry day – to be on your hands and knees gardening. But it will be invigorating and so worthwhile. These plants which gave you so much pleasure in the summer just need a little bit of care in the winter and they will last you many years to come.