December 02, 2013

It can be easy in the winter for your plants to be damaged or killed by frost no matter what you do. A combination of ground frost, air frost and strong winds can damage or kill the cells, with repeated freezing and thawing being the most damaging. With this in mind we’ve looked into some ways you can try and prevent it so that come springtime your garden will be in the best condition possible.

Factor winter into the long term plan for your garden

  • Choose hardy, reliable plants that suit your growing conditions. The Royal Horticultural Society has a good Plant Selector to help you do this. Obvious choices for winter of course include holly or berry bushes, or snowdrops, but there are plenty of other choices too.
  • Know where your garden is likely to develop frost pockets, such as the shadow from a fence or the house, and avoid placing more delicate plants here.
  • Try growing tender plants near a south facing wall to help protect them with a little extra warmth.
  • Whenever you place new plants, put them in a sheltered sunny spot. This way, through the warmer months the new wood will be ripened quicker. This makes the plant accumulate more carbohydrates which can act as anti-freeze in the winter.
  • Avoid placing tender plants in areas where a morning sun is likely to melt the frost quickly as rapid freezing/defrosting can cause the most damage.
  • While plants are still young, save pruning until after the winter weather has passed as the extra growth will give them some protection.

Carry out winter preparations

  • Mulch your soil in autumn while the soil is still quite warm to prevent ground frosts damaging the roots. Evergreens, conifers and tender shrubs and perennials in particular will benefit from a thick layer of organic matter.
  • Move any tender plants that you can safely lift, along with container grown plants into a sheltered area or greenhouse over the winter. Grouping them together will give extra protection, and very tender plants may benefit from a heated or insulated greenhouse.
  • Wrap plants such as palm trees for the winter at the first sign of frost. The Gardeners World website has a good article with instructions for how to do this.
  • Pack fruiting plants like strawberries with straw.
  • Cover small plants and crops with a horticultural fleece when you know frost is forecast. This will warm the soil temperature slightly. Double up the layer for extra protection, and make sure it is held in place securely to prevent it blowing away in the wintery weather.
  • Check the ground after frosts to make sure they haven’t lifted the soil, particularly around new shrubs. Also, if you find a plant is being damaged stuck in a frost pocket, try to remove it by taking out a fence panel for example, or remove lower parts of a hedge preventing air flow.

After the winter

  • Prune out minor damage after the last frost has gone. After pruning apply fertiliser to encourage regrowth.
  • If you find you have lost some plants, don’t give up them. There’s a chance that although the foliage has died the roots are still alive and it will grow back in the summer.

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