How to Protect Your Plants From Frost

It seems to happen every spring. It warms up, the weather’s looking great, the plants are growing well, and BAM – it freezes.

How To Protect From Frost

Where I live in Western North Carolina, we’ve had late frosts several times in the last few years. Last year it decimated my peaches, blueberries and apples. Most of the apple crop in a nearby county were wiped out last year as well, causing heartache to many farmers who depend on the apples for income. This year it looked like we’d be spared, but I got the warning today in my email – “Cover the plants!”

So what can you do if cold weather threatens once your plants are growing? There are several precautions you can take to eliminate, or at least minimize the potential damage.

11 Ways to protect plants from frost damage

  1. Water the area well. Damp or wet soil holds warmth longer.
  2. Mulch around low growing plants. Mulch will protect some roots and stems too.
  3. Cover your plants. I know this seems like a no-brainer, but there’s more to it than tossing something haphazardly over plants. Always cover loosely with a cloth fabric. Plastic will keep condensation in and can cause freezing. Don’t allow the cover to touch the plants, which could cause burning.
  4. Remove the cover when the frost has thawed. Leaving it on can smother the plants.
  5. For smaller plants, you can use glass jars, milk jugs or plastic soda bottles cut in half. Be sure to remove these as well.
  6. For tomatoes, there’s a device called Wall-O-Water, which acts as a small radiator. (Find it here online.) There are many similar things on the market. It is a ring of long plastic tubes held together in a cone shape. You pull the cone apart on the top and fill the tubes with water. Open them on sunny days to let the condensation out, or keep them closed when frost is expected. (As a bonus, these devices also protect against excessive sunlight during the daytime.)
  7. Wrap pots in burlap or bubble wrap to protect the roots.
  8. Group containers together if you can. Safety in numbers! More plants in one area will help hold warmth in.
  9. Provide a breeze. Even a slight breeze with a fan will help keep frost from settling.
  10. This next tip makes me chuckle every time. A mango farmer I knew in Florida said when frost warnings come he gets out the Christmas lights! String them around the plant you want to protect, under a fabric cover. Be sure not to let them touch the cover since fire could occur, though chances are slim. The heat provided by the lights, however minimal, will help to keep the plants from freezing.
  11. You can also use an anti-transpirant. Not an antiperspirant. (People get it mixed up all the time!) An anti-transpirant will seal the moisture in the plant. You can get it online here or at specialty garden centers.

Frost already got your plants?

If it’s too late, what can you do? Firstly – nothing. That’s right, don’t go out and prune everything right away. In case of another frost, the previously frozen parts will help protect the plant. When it starts decaying, cut it off. Or when you see new growth below where frost damage occurred, cut above it.

You can also try to move the plant to another area. If it’s feasible to do so, move the plant to a higher location. Cold air sinks, so higher spots may not have as many problems. However, if it’s a hard freeze, no place may be safe.

A few last tips

You can also buy cold hardy plants to begin with. Know your zone and don’t try things that may not have a chance. I say this and I’m the one who grows pineapples and mangoes in North Carolina. To keep them growing well, I bring them in during the winter and put them back outdoors in the summer. Be sure to do this gradually because you can burn indoor plants really easy. Toughen them up by putting them out for a few hours each day for a while. You can do this with tender plants like basil and tomatoes.

Planting on the south side will provide heat early in the day, and planting against a building helps because the it retains heat and protects against cooler nights. Also, be aware of microclimates in your yard, you may have a protected area where certain plants do better than they would if left out in the open.

In closing

If a late spring frost is coming your way, stay on top of things and take care of your plants. These tips can also be used for an early late-season frost. It’s not unusual to get frost in October, but you may even need to protect your plants in September if it should happen early.

What are some other tips you employ to protect your plants from frost?

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photo credit to John Loo

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Comments

  1. As was stated in the article, don’t hastily pull your plants out. We had an unexpected frost about a month ago and I hadn’t gotten our cilantro covered. I went out about 5:30 when I realized it was below freezing and the cilantro and onions were frozen, it felt like all the way through. I covered the celantro anyway (better late than never) ha, ha and when the sun came out, it thawed out and looked great again and the onion tops stood back up and looked like nothing had happened. I know cilantro and onions are very hearty and you wouldn’t have that kind of luck with tomatoes or cucumbers for sure. We had cilantro all winter in Payson Arizona where we get snow and temperatures in the teens. We covered it every night with an old heavy quilt we draped over a picnic bench so it didn’t lay on the cilantro. (We probably have about a 3×4 ft. area.) If it rained or snowed we would hang it up for the day to dry (so it didn’t freeze everything) and then layed it over the next evening again. It worked great!

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