Protect Plants from Freezing

Jeanne Grunert
cold frame

It's important to protect plants from freezing on chilly nights when frost warnings are predicted. Whether it's spring or fall, frost nips plants and can kill seedlings and tender vegetables, herbs and flowers. Learn how to protect plants from freezing using simple, inexpensive home methods and materials.

Simple Home Methods to Protect Plants from Freezing

Frost and freezing temperatures damage the cells in the plant's leaves. Some plants withstand cold temperatures more easily than others; think about pansies, for example. You can plant those weeks before you can plant other flowers. Plants adapted to cooler climates can more easily withstand cold weather than others. Simple home methods can be used to protect plants from freezing during the fall until you've had time to take them into the house or cover them completely using row covers or cold frames.

Newspaper

Sheets of newspaper can be placed over low-growing plants as a temporary protection method. Place them in the evening and remove them in the morning to ensure sunlight reaches the leaves, or else you will kill your plants. Weigh down the corners of the newspaper with rocks to prevent them from blowing away.

Cloches

Cloches are coverings you place over tender plants to keep frost and ice crystals from forming. The word "cloche" means "bell," and most cloches are bell-shaped. Fancy cloches are made from glass but you can make a cloche at home using a soda pop bottle, milk or juice bottle. Clean the empty container, remove the label, and cut the bottom portion off. Slide the entire cloche over the plant. You can cut off the spout portion of soda pop bottles and use the cloche like a mini greenhouse. It's meant to slide over individual plants to keep them from freezing overnight.

Simple Cold Frame

A cold frame is a frame usually built on an angle that provides sunlight to the plants underneath but keeps cold winter temperatures from reaching the plants. The clear glass or plastic cover also helps the air underneath heat up during the day, forming a mini greenhouse. If you don't have time to build an elaborate cold frame, you can still build a simple wood frame and staple sheets of plastic over it, then place that over a raised garden bed to keep plants underneath from freezing. Discarded storm windows or old glass pane windows can also be used to cover plants grown in raised beds. Be sure not to crush the plants underneath.

Mulch

Mulch insulates plant roots and helps the soil retain moisture. A thick coating of mulch, such as straw mulch, around strawberry plants provides them with the necessary warmth to prevent freezing. Other plants benefit from wood bark or wood chip mulch.

Consider Native Species and Planting Locations

When designing your garden, consider two factors for winter plant protection. First, native species are better equipped to deal with winter conditions in your garden and need less winter protection. Native species simply means plants suited to grow in your gardening zone. These plants have adapted over the years to the local conditions and are less likely to need TLC during winter months.

Different geographic features can also affect how plants withstand the winter months. Microclimates develop in certain parts of the garden. Microclimates may experience temperatures a few degrees warmer or cooler than the rest of the garden. Temperatures at the bottom of a hill, for example, tend to be slightly cooler than those at the top. Winds can also change a microclimate. If you know where you have areas exposed to cooler and windier temperatures, you may want to plant hardier shrubs, trees and flowers in those locations.

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Protect Plants from Freezing