Your first and best protection from the cold is to select the right plants for your area. Retailers are better now about carrying plants suitable for one’s area; however, mistakes do get made. I also see online retailers making outlandish claims about cold hardy cultivars. Of course, often we as gardeners choose to push the envelope of cold hardiness simply because we want the challenge, or are too anxious to get started and put out frost tender plants early. It is best to work with the natural climate of your area, but there are some things you can do to protect your plants.
Plants have varying susceptibility to temperatures. Twenty-eight degrees tends to be the temperature where frost tender plants have problems. At twenty-eight degrees liquid in the cell walls freeze causing frost tender plants to die. Frost hardy plants have such varying temperatures where they experience damage it is hard to give a rule of thumb. I select ornamentals for ability to survive in my area, and only need to protect the cool season vegetables I have planted, and maybe a few flowering plants I couldn’t pass up at the store. If the days are clear the ground may warm up enough that during the evening heat rising from the earth provides enough protection to keep the plant from damage.
Keep your plants well mulched. Mulching is something that every gardener should be doing to benefit their garden. Mulch, in addition to benefits for soil health and water retention, can protect roots from cold weather damage.
Having some cold frames available to place over vegetable plants is one option. In my area of the country I find them to be more trouble than they are worth. Temperatures here can rise rapidly during the day overheating the plants in a cold frame. There are some vents which will automatically open as heat rises, but I find that since my growing season is so long being patient and planting later is the best choice.
There are a few plants I find need protecting. My cold weather vegetable garden, and some azaleas which do not handle the late freezes very well. To protect these, I use frost blankets. To be effective these need to be placed properly. An old sheet might serve the purpose, but I use frost blankets bought at the local home improvement store. A package seems to last for years. I just cut off the length I need, and place it over the plants I am protecting. To be effective, the blanket should be long enough to cover the plant, and be anchored to the ground. The blanket works by trapping heat generated by warmth during the day, and can give an additional 5 degrees of protection. I have seen a lot of people toss an old sheet over the top of a bush where it doesn’t even cover the entire bush much less get anchored on the ground. I would be surprised if this provided any protection at all.
An additional 5 degrees of protection might not seem like much. In certain cases, it can provide just enough to prevent permanent damage. As was said at the beginning it is best to select plants first for their ability to survive in your climate, and then try to manage around the occasional extreme drop in temperature.
What techniques do you use to protect your plants from extreme cold? Let us know in the comments below. While you are signed up join in the discussions in our forums.
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