Gardening can be difficult enough to figure out at times but add frost in the mix and it’s a whole different ball game. Although the cold weather of winter will bring frost, it doesn’t need to be the end of your garden as you know it.
Preparing for frost can extend your growing season and provide healthy crops the whole year through. Frost doesn’t impact all plants the same way, however. For example, there are some hardy plants that can withstand frost like broccoli, kale, cauliflower and Swiss chard.
First and foremost, gardeners should plan ahead and grow hardy plants in their winter gardens to reduce the impact of the freezing temperatures.
This winter, when the weather forecast shows freezing temperatures overnight, use this guide to protect your garden from frost or reduce frost damage.
How Does Frost Damage Plants?
There’s good reason for frost protection because it can significantly damage your crops.
Frost occurs when temperatures dip below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. If plants are exposed to these weather conditions, ice crystals will form and damage the leaves. The ice crystals then cut off the plant’s ability to nurture the rest of the plant with the water or nutrients it needs to grow.
Frost damage makes plant leaves look limp and water soaked, and other times the leaves will turn brown or purple. Frost damage is always obvious, but it’s not created equal.
Frost Protection Tip: Choosing Seasonal Plants
As mentioned earlier, choosing seasonal plants will help lessen the impact of the cold weather on your garden. Tender plants can get easily damaged by the cold weather, so choose plants that are strong enough to withstand the frost.
These plants include hardy succulents like Queen Victoria Agave, Lace Aloe and Two-Row Stonecrop, or hardy vegetables like collard greens, Brussel sprouts, beets, carrots, lettuce, spinach, arugula and radish. Note that lettuce and arugula have thinner leaves so they’re more fragile in cold climates.
Frost Protection Tip: Follow the Weather Forecast
Knowing your area’s first frost dates will give you an idea of when to generally start your frost protection preparations. However, we all know the fickle weather spring can bring, so staying on top of the weather forecast will avoid any surprise weather drops and in turn, avoid an unprotected garden.
Frost Protection Tip: Covering Plants
Covering the tender plants will insulate them from the freezing temperatures, which typically happen overnight. Their tender leaves will need protection when the temperature drops.
Cover plants with household items like sheets, burlap, sleeping bags, towels or blankets. There’s also the option of covering plants with a cloche, which works well on smaller plants. A cloche can be purchased in stores but can also be made up of a plastic upside-down bucket or water jug.
Frost Protection Tip: Take Tender Plants Indoors
Instead of covering, you might decide it’s best to take certain plants indoors when frost is expected. Certainly potted plants will benefit from being transported indoors, but we also recommend digging up tender bulbs to protect them from frost damage. Store them in a cool place indoors.
Frost Protection Tip: Mulch
Mulch can act as a protective barrier to frost. Cover the soil with enough organic mulch that will insulate it from the harsh cold, up to 4-6 inches. The idea here is to hold in the warmth to prevent the roots of plants from freezing. Examples of mulch to use are compost, wood chips or straw. Once the weather evens out, thick mulch isn’t needed.
Final Frost Protection Tip: Water
Another frost protection tip is to keep the soil moist by watering. Our advice is to water during the day when the temperatures are warmer, giving the plants time to absorb it in time for the overnight frost.
It might seem counterproductive, but plants that are in need of water are more vulnerable to frost damage. Be sure to wet the soil instead of the leaves, giving the soil a nice moist insulation to push the heat upwards as the day turns into night.