Cold Weather Protection for Your Plants

As Charleston experiences January and February-like temperatures in early December, it has been a brisk reminder of the things we must do to help our gardens and container plants fight the cold.

In the garden, the main thing your plants that you know aren’t hardy will be thankful for is insulation. This insulative protection for plants in the ground can be achieved in a variety of ways. As we know, heat rises and cold air settles low to the ground. Protecting the roots from the cold is very important. This can be accomplished by implementing a protective, insulating barrier like a mulch or leaves. If there are any deciduous trees nearby, you’ve got yourself some free frost protection! Rake these leaves up and spread them around the crown of the plant to keep the roots warm.

Watering these mulches down, as well as the foliage of your plants will also help fight a freeze because water is another great insulator and frost protection method for your plants. I know what you’re thinking. How does water help in frost protection? Won’t it freeze and hurt the plant? Yes, it may freeze, but it helps to insulate the plant. Water on the foliage of the plants freezes on the surface and creates a barrier to the plant’s cells, maintaining them right around 32 F, keeping the cell walls intact (frost ruptures the plant’s cell walls which results in the sad, drooping dead foliage the morning after a hard freeze) and thus allowing the plant to live to see another day. This thin layer of water also helps because when water freezes, the energy expended to create ice releases heat. This is called heat of fusion.

The last great insulator for plants in your garden, as well as containers is in your closet at home: Sheets and linens. Don’t use plastics, as they actually make temperatures colder. Covering your plants with cloth helps to keep wind chill out. Be sure to cover the plants down very close to the ground, not just the top foliage as the cold air will try to move in from very low to the ground. Also make sure the plant you are covering is strong enough to withstand the weight of the particular cloth you are going to use. Using all three of these methods together will help your tropical plants and annuals you want to hang on to a little longer survive a chilly night.

For your container plants, besides the obvious bringing them inside your home, garage, shed, or greenhouse, you can implement the same methods for plants in your garden. Aside from these, putting your containerized plantings close together helps to keep them warmer and putting them in corners and up against walls or other barriers helps block wind and protect against wind chill damage.

It appears it’s going to be a chilly winter, so utilize these methods to help keep your favorite plants happy and warm!

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