Flower Gardening

Protecting Plants from Winter Frost

By Marianne Binetti


The Circle of Life of Tender Annuals

When the seasons change and colder weather arrives, there are a few steps you can take to protect tender plants from winter injury or a freezing death. Keep in mind that many flowers and vegetables are considered tender annuals and this means they are planted to be enjoyed for just one season and replaced annually. The first hard frost will end their natural life cycle and so don’t feel bad about adding the yellowing, autumn remains of annuals to the compost pile or digging frost-bitten plants into the ground so they can compost in place over the winter.

Protecting Tender Annuals

You may be able to cover an annual display with a sheet or light covering and protect them from the first cold nights of autumn. Just don’t expect these heat loving plants to make it through a cold winter even with protection, these include: coleus, marigolds, petunias, zinnias, and many other flowers that you may think of as ‘bedding plants.’ In the vegetable garden tender tomatoes, peppers, squash, beans, eggplants, and many edibles you may think of as ‘warm season crops,’ can be protected for a few extra weeks but not all winter long.

Keeping Tender Annuals Alive a Bit Longer

First, pay attention to the weather forecast. If the night temps are predicted to sink below 45 degrees, water the soil well the night before. Damp soil produces humidity and this helps protect the plants from cold. Next, use a sheet or other light fabric to drape loosely over your tender plants and secure the edges with bricks or stakes. Be sure to remove the covering once the sun comes out to avoid suffocating the plants.

Protecting With Reemay – Agricultural Cloth

You can cover rows of vegetables and flowers with bolts of the lightweight polyester fabric, trade name: Reemay (order online or from local nurseries). This will protect them from freezing until the temps are below 28 degrees. You do not need to remove this blanket of protection during the day as it allows rain and air to pass through the barrier. Reemay is often used by organic farmers in the spring to protect crops from pests and as a season extender in the fall to keep vegetables producing into the winter. In vegetable gardens the Reemay is tacked to hoops that emerge from the ground to keep the fabric from resting on the plants.

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