Winter Woes: Protecting Plants from Cold Temperatures

Learn how to shield plants from winter elements with these simple tips.
Simple Cloche Protects Young Plants in Spring

Simple Cloche Protects Young Plants in Spring

Photo by: DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide © 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - The Complete Gardener's Guide , 2011 Dorling Kindersley Limited

During colder months, plants are vulnerable to frost, low temperatures, biting winds, and excessive rain. Losing a few plants is inevitable in a very hard winter, but you can reduce the risk with protective measures.

Winter Protection

A sudden cold snap will take its toll on tender plants, so don’t be caught unaware. Wrap up plants well in advance, and prepare them for the worst weather to help them get through the winter unscathed.

While tender bulbs and tubers are best lifted from the ground, vulnerable shrubs, climbers, and other plants can remain unmoved and be protected from the elements with burlap, horticultural fabric, and straw. Wrap plants in late fall or before the first frost. Protect branches of shrubs, such as Cestrum, fuchsia, and Clerodendrum, with a sheet of horticultural fabric held in place with twine. Encase the lower stems of tender climbers with dry straw wrapped with burlap. Sensitive architectural plants need extra care. Place straw in the crown of tree ferns and palms, then gather up the fronds, and wrap in fabric. To protect bananas, cut off the leaves, and encircle the trunks with chicken wire. Stuff this with straw, and cover it all with plastic sheeting to keep out the rain—loosen the covers during milder weather to allow air to circulate.

Plants in Containers

Plants in pots are particularly vulnerable to cold weather, and a sudden cold snap or a prolonged period of icy weather can cause damage to roots or tender shoots. Move plants to a cool sunroom, porch, or frost-free greenhouse if possible; dormant plants that don’t need light, such as fuchsias, can also be moved into garages and sheds. If you don’t have space or the pots are too heavy to move, take other precautions.

Keep the roots protected from frost by wrapping the container with bubble plastic,burlap, or fabric, and tie it securely in place with garden twine. Alternatively, push pots up against the wall of the house, where it is slightly warmer, and pack them together tightly so they help to insulate each other. Protective material can then be wrapped around the whole group. Sheets of fabric can also be wrapped around the tops of plants to protect foliage, buds, or early flowers, particularly on fruit trees.

Excessive moisture caused by winter rain can also cause problems for container-grown plants. Wet compost or puddles at the base of pots can starve roots of oxygen and they may then rot, causing the plant to die. Reduce problems by moving pots into sheltered spot or under an overhang, and raise containers off the ground on pot feet to allow excess moisture to drain and air to circulate around the roots. 

Moving Under Cover

If you are overwintering crops, extending the growing season, or making early or late sowings in the ground, use plastic tunnels, cloches, or fabric to protect plants from hard frosts and excessively wet conditions. A simple cloche provides enough protection for young plants in spring when there is still risk of frost. 

Types of Tender Plants

  • Bougainvillea
  • Brugmansia
  • Callistemon (Bottlebrush)
  • Canna (Indian shot plant)
  • Clerodendrum bungei (Glory flower)
  • Cordyline australis (New Zealand cabbage palm)
  • Dahlia
  • Dicksonia antarctica (Tree fern)
  • Eucomis (Pineapple lily)
  • Fuchsia
  • Galtonia
  • Gladiolus
  • Hedychium (Ginger lily)
  • Leonotis leonurus (Lion’s tail)
  • Melianthus major (Honey bush)
  • Musa basjoo (Japanese banana)
  • Pelargonium
  • Punica granatum (Pomegranate)
  • Tigridia (Tiger flower)
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