Cold temperatures that can damage plants don’t only come in winter. There are over night cold snaps during the spring and early fall months, too.
There are no rules to tell you the specific temperature at which all plants freeze and die. The truth is that different plants freeze and die under different temperatures. Knowing what species of plant will survive conditions in your region of the country should give you a head start against a freeze.
There are plants that produce enough of a special hormone that help them survive cold snaps and then there are plants that do not produce as much of this hormone and do not survive a
cold snap. A metrics has been created called the Hardiness rating that helps you select plants that will best survive conditions in your region. Knowing weather patterns in your place of residence and the hardiness rating of plants you are considering for your garden can help you select the right plants for your area.
Now it’s up to you to take the right steps to protect your plants. Here are some ideas.
Become a Fan of the Weatherman
The key to protecting your plants is paying attention to weather reports to find out when and for how long your area will experience low temperatures. Consider it a warning when you hear that the temperature could be around freezing or 32°F. A “light” freeze or frost is considered to be about 28°F for just a few hours. A “moderate” freeze or “killing” frost is set at 25°F to 28°F for several hours. A “severe” freeze for several hours describes conditions below 25°.
Stay prepared. Collect the tools you will need to fight the cold including old blankets, burlap, newspapers, mulch, large tubs and old pots, old milk jugs, and jars large enough to fit over a plant.
Focus on the Most Vulnerable Plants
Determine what plants are the most vulnerable and water them before the freeze. Yes, that sounds contrary to logic, but watering the plants will actually insulate them and moist soil stays warmer than dry soil. It’s best to water the roots and not the leaves a day before the freeze and do it well before sunset. The time will allow the plants to soak up the moisture before the freeze arrives.
Prepare to Cover the Plants
Moisture evaporates from soil over time, so you will want to cover soil and plants. Use non-manmade mulch like wood chips to cover the soil. Use covers over the plants. The cover actually holds the warmth down on the plants for as long as the freeze occurs. Don’t use plastic. An old blanket, flannel or fleece material, sheets, towels, or burlap will suffice. Use wires or stakes to suspend the cloth so that it is securely on the ground and away from the flora. The plants should be covered before sunset so the warmth can establish under the cloth. Use plastic only to cover the cloth if rain is expected. Including jugs filled with warm water under the cover and next to the plants will also assist to generate warmth.
You can also cover plants with cardboard boxes, pots turned upside down, and bubble wrap can go around hanging plants to serve as insulation.
Uncover the plants after the frost clears, but not too soon because direct morning sun can cause the plants to de-frost too quickly. If frost is predicted again, allow the plants to receive sunlight, and then cover them before sunset.