The cold can pose a significant threat to plants, including evergreens which are generally more acclimatised to winter conditions. Frost in particular can cause serious damage to tender plant varieties, as the water within the plant cells freezes, causing damage and resulting in limp, brown plants. The cells in hardier plants are less vulnerable, but the surrounding soil can freeze and prevent the plant from getting enough moisture needed to survive.
We know the cold can kill, so don’t let winter destroy your garden. Let's explore five of the most effective ways to protect your garden and guard your plants from frost.
When considering a way to protect your plants from frost, the best method is to plant strategically. Areas that are afforded a greater level of protection from being sheltered by a wall or by larger, sizable hedges for instance, should be reserved for the more delicate plants. Frost forms first within the lowest points of a garden, so if your garden has a large hollow or dip, save this for the hardier plant varieties.
For very delicate plants, defrosting too quickly after a chilly evening can cause greater damage than the initial freezing, so avoid planting them in east-facing areas that attract direct sunlight. Replanting your more delicate plants now could save them in the long run.
Pot Vulnerable or Delicate Plants
It is uncommon to be working with a garden that has been precisely planned to your own specifications, but there are other simple steps that you can take to protect your existing plants from the cold. One very straightforward method to make sure your plants remain protected is to grow your most delicate specimens in pots, so they can be brought inside when the cold weather strikes.
Apply a Layer of Mulch
To better insulate your tender perennials, apply a layer of mulch of around 5 cm to the plants as this will help keep the root systems warm by acting as an insulator and preventing the soil from freezing. Around the plants themselves, grit should be used between the mulch to allow for improved drainage ensuring the roots do not rot.
Cover Delicate Plants with a Blanket
If frost is predicted overnight, covering your more delicate plants with a blanket can be effective in protecting these plants from frost damage, although this does little to increase the temperature.
When covering plants, take care in making sure the blanket does not weigh down the branches or leaves. Rather, prop it up with stakes where necessary to prevent it from coming into direct contact with the plants.
Even larger and more hardy plants can do with some protection during the winter. Tree ferns for instance should have their trunks wrapped with chicken wire and straw in order to prevent them from rotting. For added insulation, the fronds of your tree fern can be left on over winter, although they will likely need to be removed during the spring.
Invest in a Greenhouse or Polytunnel
One of the best ways to protect your garden plants in winter is with a greenhouse . If you would like better control of the growing environment of your plants, then consider a greenhouse or a polytunnel. These tunnels work much like a greenhouse does by trapping heat within the structure using solar radiation, but are far less expensive.
Both greenhouse and polytunnels can be used to create a growing environment which would not be possible within your own garden, and can extend the growing season of plants. They can be used to help maintain a constant temperature in summer, and allow for protection from winter’s wind and frost.
The Best Winter Plants for Your Garden
Abeliophyllum distichum, or white forsythia, are delicate white flowers which bloom on bare stems in late winter. They create a fragrant, fountain-like appearance of cascading petals which survive comfortably during frost or snow conditions. Daphne mezereum, or February daphne, have purplish-pink petals and often produce clusters of vivid red berries throughout the autumn. Caution should be exercised if you have young children as while these plants can be alluring, they are highly toxic. Harmamelis, or witch hazel, is available in a wide range of colours and shapes. All variations available are winter flowering, producing flowers between the during the period of December through to March.
Elaeagnus pungen, or Maculata Elaeagnus pungens, are small, fragrant white flowers which appear from autumn onwards. Depending on the lighting, the leaves of these plants can appear almost silvery, complementing your frost-tipped lawn areas and adding some extra winter magic to your garden. Mahonia media, or Charity Mahonia media, is a large plant coming in variations of spikes, cones or yellow flowers. This broad, imposing plant flowers in November and December, but is ideal as a hardy garden centrepiece all year round.
Clematis cirrhosa, nicknamed Freckles, is a variety which thrives in the winter months and should be placed near border walls to help them climb. These climbers offer pale yellow flowers with maroon speckles, and leaves with a glossy bronze tint. Clematis cirrhosa, or Balearica, grows to approximately 4m in height and produces small elegant creamy yellow and purple fleck petals, flowering throughout the period of November to March.
Helleborus niger, or Christmas rose, is a pretty white flower capable of easily withstanding the extremes of winter. These perennials flower throughout December and grow in clusters with stems which hold flowers above its foliage.
Iris unguicularis, or Algerian iris, is a breathtaking flower capable of uplifting any winter display with its majestic, vivid colouration. These flowers boast fragrant and luxurious deep lilac petals with white and yellow feather patterns, and can grow up to 22cm in height.
Final Winter Gardening Tips
To keep your garden looking its best in winter, make sure you choose sturdy or seasonal plants which are suited for harsh conditions. Avoid golden or variegated plant varieties as these are generally more vulnerable and less likely to survive cold winters. A safe choice for any time of year are evergreens, which add colour to gardens and can also work effectively as wind breakers to protect more delicate plants. Some bulbs tolerate, or sometimes even require, a period of cold temperature to be able to produce their best flowers. These are hardy bulbs such as cyclamen coum, snowdrops and winter aconite which should be planted in spring to flower and produce much needed colour throughout winter. Winter can be the ideal time to improve your garden, ready in time for the next spring and summer. If you’ve been thinking of adding new features, a greenhouse, or fresh paving, the winter is the perfect time to rethink your layout and create the perfect frame for the months to come.
Winter gardening advice like Minster Paving’s Winter Gardening Hub can help you discover more tips including how to protect your patio this winter, and how to attract birdlife into your garden.
Rob Howard, Garden Designer