The Top 5 Techniques for Managing Frost

By John Ehrling Posted on 10/8/2018

We all know the spring paradox: one day it’s 65 degrees and sunny outside; the next day, it’s 35 degrees in the morning with snow falling or chances of ice storms. That’s part of what makes spring such a confusing, yet exciting season, with the promise of summer by the time it’s all said and done. However, as a gardener, this type of up-and-down weather can be stressful, with harsh frosts killing plants before they have a chance to really flourish.

What is Frost?

snow covered green pine treeFrost typically occurs at night, when the air temperature approaches freezing and the surface of the plant dips below freezing. As a result, ice crystals start to form in the same way that dew does. In some cases, frost does not develop at freezing depending the weather conditions. The most common types of frost include hoarfrost, the feathery white stuff you see on chilly mornings; rime, when water is deposited in liquid form then freezes resulting in a shiny appearance; or black frost, when frost didn’t necessarily form but still damaged the plants.

To calculate frost’s damage, it’s wise to estimate how cold it got and for how long.

Although you can do your best to monitor weather through media and phone updates today, here are the top 5 techniques administered by gardeners for garden frost protection:

  1. Indoor Transportation: If you are aware of an impending brutal night, bring all tender plants inside. It’s advised to dig up tender bulbs and store them in a cool, dry place to ride out the frost.
  2. Watering: Preparing your plants for the freeze through watering will prevent desiccation. Add insulating water to the soil and plant cells, giving them the nutrients they need to remain resistant.
  3. Covering: Cover tender plants overnight with an inverted bucket or flower pot, as well as cut-open water or milk jugs. You can also cover plants with a layer of mulch. Come morning, be sure to uncover them so they have a chance to regulate their temperature during the day.
  4. Big Plant Covering: For shrubs and trees, they, too, can be covered ahead of a frost. Lay down fabric, old bed sheets, burlap, or commercial frost cloths on top of a frame to keep them protected, yet aerated. As usual, be sure to uncover in the morning so they can regulate their natural temperature.
  5. Frost Resistant Spots: You can actually do some frost research ahead of planting and check out frost marked spots on a U.S. map. The NOAA works to highlight upcoming areas, so you know how preventative you need to be ahead of time.

As always, practice active prevention techniques, like choosing plants that are hardy for your climate zone, to help prevent unwanted plant casualties according to your climate. Make sure to plant all tender plants in containers that can be easily transferred inside for frost protection if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Lastly, avoid applying fertilizer until the last frost threat, to ensure frost protection for plants.