How to Protect Flowers

Overview

The cooling and damaging effects of wind and frost can be discouraging in the garden, especially if plants are robust and beautiful before damage. Proper planning can diminish the inevitable risk of occasional gusts and chills associated with winds, and short-term solutions to retain soil warmth can prolong flower life when frosty night temperatures threaten. Protective windbreaks and staking can lessen the threat of wind damage and plant drying, and the use of cloth to cover tender plants, sometimes with an artificial heat source, can also protect flowers from damage.

Protection From Wind

Step 1

Observe the most wind-swept areas of your property. Note the plant materials in your vicinity that are affected by thunderstorms or winds. Avoid planting delicate annual and perennial flowers in areas more exposed to winds.

Step 2

Erect a fence or hedgerow to slow or re-direct wind around planting beds filled with flowers you wish to preserve. Fences should have wood or PVC slats to allow a lesser amount of wind to push through; chain-link fences do not block wind. Plant hedges take time to grow and fill-in, but look attractive while protecting plants grown in the foreground.

Step 3

Cluster plants in the garden design. Plants growing near each other can collectively shield wind gusts from toppling flower stems or tattering foliage. Place lower-growing plants in windier locales, as the speed of the wind is lowest at the soil surface.

Step 4

Stake plants with bamboo, wooden or metal poles or sticks. Attach the plant stems to the stakes with twist-ties, or nylon or plastic banding, making sure you do not tie knots so tightly as to pinch plant stems against the stakes. Allow a little movement of plant stems with the stakes so they can move in the wind and bend rather than remain too rigid and snap from the pressure.

Protection From Frost

Step 1

Fertilize flowering plants with a product higher in potassium (K) in late summer so that this nutrient is more readily available to plants as they begin their gradual exposure to cooler nights as autumn progresses.

Step 2

Monitor weather forecasts so you are aware of the threat of the first frost or prolonged freezing temperatures.

Step 3

Water tender plants that need protection from an impending frost two to three days before the expected frost. Do not water plants the day of the expected frost. The plants should have moist soil and plump cell tissues from a watering in advance of a cold spell. The cell fluids have particles in them that act like antifreeze; over-watering can dilute the cell fluids, making a plant more susceptible to freezing temperatures.

Step 4

Allow sunlight to warm the soil and plants the day before the frost. This solar energy will build up in the soil, mulch and plant tissues, and will radiate off at night for protection.

Step 5

Cover the plants with a cloth sheet or blanket after the sun sets the evening of the expected frost or freeze. Place the sheet over the entire plant, allowing excess fabric to spread outward onto the ground like a wide-based tent. Do not tuck or tie-in fabric under the plants to their stem bases. Place stakes around the plants to support the sheet or blanket atop the plants if you fear the weight of the blanket may crush the plants.

Step 6

Secure the edges of the cloth covering with bricks so wind does not lift and remove the covering during the night as temperatures fall below freezing.

Step 7

Consider laying a strand of miniature outdoor Christmas lights under the cloth for added protection for plants on exceptionally cold nights. Do not use LED lights, and make sure the lights do not come in contact with the fabric.

Step 8

Remove the protective cloth in the morning after the air temperatures warm above freezing. The coldest part of the night is often right at sunrise, and rewarming may be slow to return until 9 or 10 o'clock in the morning. Allow plants to receive light during the day to make food, and to permit solar warming of the soil and plants. Infrared rays warm the soil and plants even on overcast days.

Step 9

Repeat Steps 4 through 8 as necessary when the threat of frost or freezes occur. Keep in mind that at some point the severity of cold will eventually reach the plants, damaging or killing the foliage and flowers. Frost protection is not a fail-safe solution but merely a means to extend the growing season.

Tips and Warnings

  • Keep in mind that there are physiological limitations to plants, and that the best staking or frost-protection strategies cannot keep nature forever at bay. Strong winds and sustained subfreezing temperatures eventually will have effects on plants. Avoid using plastic sheeting to protect plants from frost. Failure to remove plastic after a frost when the sun is shining can cause intense heat build-up under the plastic, wilting or killing the plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Fencing
  • Plant stakes
  • Bed sheets and blankets
  • Bricks
  • Miniature incandescent Christmas lights

References

  • LandscapeExpert.co.uk: Planning Frost and Wind Protection
  • University of Arizona: Frost Protection
  • PioneerThinking.com: Landscaping For Energy Efficiency
Keywords: plant protection, wind shelter, frost protection

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for The Public Garden, Docent Educator, numerous non-profit newsletters and for Learn2Grow.com's comprehensive plant database. He holds a Master's degree in Public Horticulture from the University of Delaware and studied horticulture and biology in Australia at Murdoch University and the University of Melbourne's Burnley College.