On freezing cold, cloudless nights it’s not uncommon for Jack Frost’s chilly fingers to touch your garden, but you usually only discover the effects the next morning when you find an icy sheet covering the lawn and your favourite plants. Here are a few tips…
1 Choose the right plants
- Deciduous plants are dormant in winter: They shed all their leaves, their cell walls thicken (and, therefore, there is less sap in the branches and stems to freeze), and they wait for warmer temperatures before they send out new shoots.
- Hardy, evergreen plants with hard, leathery leaves, and scales or protective protuberances on softer stems, survive the winter without injury. Some even have the ability to increase their sugar levels so that their cells will only begin to freeze at much lower temperatures.
- Winter hibernators are often perennials and bulbous plants that are completely dormant in winter – their parts above the ground die at the end of summer – making them a good choice. They reappear when the weather warms up.
- Endemic plants have usually adapted to their climatic region over centuries and will therefore be less affected by the hardships of certain weather conditions.
2 Prepare the ground
- Heavy, wet, clay soil and weak drainage can be fatal when it’s frosty. Use compost – and even some river sand – to loosen the soil and improve drainage.
3 Use protective plants
- Use smaller trees and big shrubs as windbreaks to protect other plants. Remember that frost can occur near fences and walls because the air tends to ‘rest’ against these structures.
- Get to know the potential frosty areas in your garden. Rather use hard elements in these areas, such as garden art, stepping blocks and gravel.
4 The right time and place
- Plant your favourites near a warm, northern boundary wall on your property.
- Plants in pots are a good idea because they can easily be moved to more sheltered parts of the garden when winter arrives.
- Rather plant more fussy individuals later, or keep them sheltered in your greenhouse in the interim.
5 Water and fertiliser
- Fertilise the whole garden in autumn with fertiliser that’s rich in potassium. This helps make vegetative growth stronger, hardens cell walls and increases the plants’ resistance to cold and disease.
- Rather water plants in the mornings so that they can ‘dry off’ and the ground has a chance to warm up during the day.
- If there has been frost during the night, put sprinklers on as soon as it’s light, or water with a hose so that the plant cells can defrost slowly.