It doesn’t happen often, but once or twice a year we hear on the news to “cover your plants” because of the possibility of cold weather. How do you know if this is time and money well spent on frost protection for your plants? Or, if on the other hand, you can stay nice and warm inside and leave things alone to tough it out? Let’s look at a few things to consider when freezing temperatures are predicted and frost protection is a possibility.
The weather preceding a night with cold temperatures is very important. If the weather has been getting gradually cooler over several weeks then, just like us, the plants in your yard are better acclimated to the cold snap. If the weather has been unseasonably warm and happens to have a sudden drop in temperatures, it is much more likely that you will see damage on your plants. Also, if the forecast or some of the best weather apps show temperatures in the low 30s several days ahead, make the time to water your entire yard well a few days in advance. Well watered plants will be better able to handle cold temperatures.
Which Plants to Cover?
Every yard is going to have its own little micro climates and this may help you decide which plants need frost protection and which ones will be fine without. The little pockets and micro climates can be a few degrees warmer or cooler than the surrounding areas. For instance, right next to your home, under a large tree, or near a pool will be several degrees warmer than an open exposed area. And when we are talking a few degrees at or around the freezing point, a swing either way is going to be critical for tropical plants.
The size of the plants is a consideration at our house. This banana is almost 10 feet tall and there just isn’t an easy way for me to cover it for frost protection. For large plants a ladder works very well for frost protection. Set the A-frame over the plant and use it as a teepee for covering with fabric. I am quite sure I will do more damage trying to cover this plant than the frost itself, so this banana will be left outside.
Smaller plants that have sentimental value, are slow growing or even expensive move to the top of my list for plants to cover during cold weather. This small Ixora ‘Siam Ribbon’ is finally starting to grow after almost a year. I love the contorted shape and growth habit so this is one of the few plants I will provide frost protection for this year if needed.
Supplies for Frost Protection
- Covering material. This can be special protective fabric from a garden center, old sheets, blankets or tarps. I try to stay away from clear plastic that may trap in heat later in the day, but if it is the only thing available it will work better than nothing.
- Stakes or supports to keep fabric off of plants.
- Bricks or rocks to secure fabric in case of wind.
When the decision is made for frost protection in your garden, the most important thing to remember is that you are not keeping the cold out but rather keeping the warm air in. You will want to create a pocket around your plants, completely covering them from the ground up so that you are trapping a bubble of warm air in around the plants. If possible, use poles or sticks to keep your blanket or covering material from having direct contact with your plants (this could cause damage if it touches). I use bamboo stakes around the Ixora to keep the blanket from contact with the plant but any upright material will be just fine.
Anchor or pin down the edges of your blankets to make sure a strong breeze doesn’t open up your plants to the cold air. If using plastic for the covering material remove it the following morning so that it doesn’t get too hot during the day.
If this effort to cover your plants just doesn’t sound like something you are going to do, don’t worry. There are many great plants available that can take cold weather like a champ and will do great in your yard. Azaleas, camellias, viburnums and many others will do just fine in the cold. Some flowers such as pansies, ornamental cabbage or violas will actually look better after freezing temperatures.
Take a look around your yard now for those tropical plants that will need frost protection. It will be much easier to do this now than in the dark the night cold weather is forecast! Having a game plan in place and supplies ready will make life easier when cold weather approaches.