How to Protect Garden Plants From Frost

Overview

Many types of plants are frost-tender. If you have planted any tropical plants in your yard, they are especially vulnerable to cold winter temperatures. Planting them in large containers that you can bring indoors in fall is one solution, but if you have planted them in the ground, they can die during hard frosts or snow. Several methods are effective in helping to protect tender garden plants from the cold. You can cover them, hang lights or spray them with protective products, which will save your tender plants with little work or expense.

Step 1

Spray your frost-tender plants with an antitranspirant spray before your first fall frost. This type of product helps plants retain moisture, which is depleted when they get too cold. Follow label instructions for correct application of an antitranspirant; you might need to spray your plant or plants several times during the winter.

Step 2

String Christmas lights or one or two incandescent lights on your frost-tender plants. The warmth from the bulbs will keep trees and shrubs such as citrus warm enough to prevent frost damage.

Step 3

Cover frost-tender plants with floating row cover, clear plastic, a tarp or a blanket. Try to keep the covering from touching your plant; you can pound stakes into the ground around individual plants or build frames over them and then drape your cover on top of the frame.

Step 4

Set a sprinkler next to each plant you need to protect on nights when the temperature is forecast to drop to freezing or below. Turn it on at sunset and allow it to run all night; moving water cannot freeze, so your plant will be protected as long as it receives a spray of running water.

Step 5

Keep plants watered during the winter if rains don't provide adequate irrigation, because dry plants are more prone to frost damage than those that are well hydrated. Also, spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of compost or other mulch on the soil around your plants to help keep the soil warmer.

Tips and Warnings

  • Don't combine electric lights with the sprinkler method to avoid electric shock and shorting out your lights.

Things You'll Need

  • Antitranspirant spray
  • Lights
  • Floating row cover
  • Clear plastic sheeting
  • Tarp or blanket
  • Sprinkler system
  • Compost

References

  • New Mexico State University: Protect Fruit From Spring Frost and Wind
  • Redwood Barn Nursery: Frost Protection in the Garden
  • GSI Horticultural: Anti-Transpirants
Keywords: frost protection, tender plants, tree maintenance tropical

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.