Fall is here and winter is rapidly approaching. Half of the country has already seen freezing temperatures, and some of those places have already had some snowfall! If you haven’t already done it, now is the time to get out into the garden and cover your sensitive and tender plants from problems like wind burn, frozen roots, frost damage and death. Get headed in the right direction to save your plants with these winter plant protection tips.
Choose the Right Plants for Cold Weather
The best protection against the cold is to ensure you’ve chosen the right plants for your planting zone. Know the weather in your area — when it starts to get cold, how cold it gets, and when it begins to warm up — then figure out what plants do well in your area.
For cold weather gardens, look for vegetables that are “hardy” and “semi-hardy” plants that can tolerate temperatures from 32ºF to well into the teens. These plants are good for your spring and fall gardens. Check for the first freeze date in your area so you know how long your harvest season will last — many hardy vegetables will continue in the garden for weeks after the first hard frost.
- Brussels sprouts
- English peas
- Mustard greens
- Chinese cabbage
- Gourmet Salad Greens
- Irish potatoes
- Swiss chard
Mulch to Keep Your Plants Warm
In the summer, mulch helps to retain moisture at the root of your plants so they don’t dry out too fast, but in the winter, it provides a thick layer of protection from harsh cold weather. Mulch will hold in heat and protect the roots and base of your plants from frost and wind burn. What you use as mulch is completely up to you. In my opinion, the best mulch for winter is either leaves or straw. Since fall drops all the leaves and dead pine straw, it’s easy (and free) to just rake them all up with a fan rake and use them around plants. They tend to supply the best insulation to your plants, plus they’re fine to leave on the garden until spring — they’ll break down and provide added nutrients to the soil for your spring plants.
Mulch around your plants with a layer of material about 2 inches deep. If you don’t have enough mulch material to cover the entire garden, just mulch around each plant. Keep in mind the root system of a plant extends as far as its limbs do, so be sure to cover as much as you can to keep the roots from freezing.
Cover Your Plants
Covering your plants may not keep the cold from your plants, but it will definitely protect them from the wind and frost. There are many ways to cover your plants for cold weather protection.
Hoop houses are great structures to put up that are also easily removed and stored when not needed. Protect your plants with row coverings made from PVC pipes and plastic in a “hoop” type covering. Form the PVC into an arch (or half hoop) and spread plastic sheeting or burlap across the PVC arches. Gather the ends of the material and clamp together with a hand clamp or two to ensure full coverage and easy access. Hoop houses made with clear plastic sheeting also act as a miniature greenhouse to keep plants warmer and further extend the growing season.
If you have a hardy, bushy plant, you could simply wrap them in burlap and cinch the top with some garden twine. This method may not necessarily protect the plant from frost as well as the other two methods described here, but you probably won’t want to build full sized tee-pees for your bushes, either.
Build a Cold Frame or Greenhouse
If you can transplant your plants, move them into your greenhouse. Be sure to monitor the temperature in your greenhouse to make sure they maintain a steady and appropriate temperature. If you use a thermometer like this one, you won’t even have to go outside to check the temperature! Be sure to include a way to ventilate your greenhouse in case too much heat builds up inside. A simple flap window would do fine, or you could get a small vent fan (this one is solar powered) to help release excess heat. It would be a shame for you to kill plants in the winter because they got too hot, right? Ok, they probably won’t burn up, but if you’re tending plants that are not so hardy as to survive in really cold temperatures, you might actually need a small heater in your greenhouse — especially if you’re having multiple overcast days where the sun is not doing its job to keep the greenhouse warm enough.
If you can’t or simply don’t feel the need to transplant your plants, but you want the same effect, build a cold frame around your plants. These are basically mini greenhouses, or a raised-beds with a glass lids. Erica from MomPrepares had her husband build a cold frame from straw bales, an old storm door and some scrap wood. Read more about how they did that here! If you’re not quite handy enough to build one out of scraps, this kit (or one like it) might be better for you.
Bring Your Plants Inside
If you have container plants, you can always bring them inside. If the plants are still in the ground, you can transplant them into appropriate sized containers. Take them into your greenhouse, garage, basement or even into the house itself. Just make sure you are attempting to mimic the conditions where the plant has been growing. Maintain a constant suitable temperature, provide light via a window or grow light, and keep it watered — especially when you first bring it in so your plant doesn’t go into a state of shock and die. You may even find that you can keep a plant alive through the entire cold season, then re-transplant it when spring rolls around!
Be sure if you do bring your plants into your house, check them thoroughly for pests — no need to bring a bunch of bugs into your house. If you find some bugs on your plants, either pick them off, or spray them off with a plastic spray bottle filled with a mild solution of water and dish soap.
If you’re expecting heavy snowfall, the best course of action is either cold frames (as long as they’re sturdy enough to withstand the snow), greenhouses or bringing the plants inside. Be sure to keep up with weather forecasts.