If you live in Ontario like me, you probably have seen a frost warning or two by now. This is the sign that cold temperatures are on their way with potential to harm plants (and break out your cute fall clothing)! I swear these warm sunny days are only a trick. Let’s learn about how to protect our gardens.
What is frost?
Frost is basically a thin layer of ice on a solid surface. It looks super cool on the blades of grass and on leaves, but can harm your delicate plants that may not be ready to face this phenomenon on their own. According to our pal Wikipedia, frost “forms from water vapor in an above freezing atmosphere coming in contact with a solid surface whose temperature is below freezing, resulting in a phase change from water vapor to ice as the water vapor reaches the freezing point.”
To help your garden stay safe from frost damage, you first need to know what plants will need protection.
Who do you have at your place?
If you have tropical plants that you’ve brought outside for a warm summer, it’s time to bring them in. Some people (and garden centres) will move their tropicals in and out for the daytime sunlight. I think it’s easier to just make the call and bring them inside for the cold season. My mom’s large jade plant made its way inside a few weeks ago after enjoying the summertime sun on our lower patio.
By the time fall comes, most annuals have finished their blooming. You can compose what’s left or use your municipal yard waste program to discard the remaining plants. It’s best to take them out now before the ground becomes too solid or your fingers become too cold to deal with the fine plants. Annuals are only intended to last one season. Their seeds may remain in the garden and you might get a lucky few surprise returns the next year, but the roots and foliage will die away. These plants don’t need protection – just get them out and accept the yearly loss.
These are the plants that don’t lose their roots at the end of their growing season. They will reduce in size, lose any flowers and much of their foliage, but will grow back the following year as the weather gets warm enough. These plants may need protection outside. You can protect them in a variety of ways. Depending on their size and type, here’s some suggested ways to create a safe haven from the ice and snow. These are what you’ll want to mulch or mound. Wrapping smaller perennial plants can be helpful too if they will be near sidewalks or roadways using road maintenance supplies like salt.
Trees and Shrubs
These are the most hardy of flora and often will keep their branches and leaves/needles. Protecting them from the weight of the snow can be the biggest task. Living in the snowbelt of Ontario, a region that often receives heavy snowfall as a result of lake-effect precipitation, several centimeters often accumulate rapidly when it snows here. More fragile branches, such as the newest or oldest ones, may break in the heavy wind and snow. Wrapping them together can create a nice cozy bundle of protection.
Here is a plant finder from Gardenia that can help you learn about your plants. There are a few apps you can download to help you with identifying unknown plants by taking a photo.
Things to do:
- Water remaining plants before nighttime. While the mid-summer sun will evaporate your watering quickly, the autumn weather allows it to last a little longer. If you water at dusk, the water doesn’t have time to go in the air or be absorbed before it freezes.
- If you cover your plants at night, be sure there’s space between the fabric and the plant for air circulation. This allows for a protective cushion between frost and the plant – it prevents harm. Avoid plastic for long term use and be extra careful with this spacing as most plastics aren’t breathable like other fabrics. Think of tenting – use wood frames or stakes to help cover larger or multiple plants at the same time. Remember that snow acts like a natural blanket in the winter.
- Do your gardening and be sure to cover any necessary plants before the sun goes down and the temperature drops. Your plants will chill to their core just like you otherwise! Uncover during daylight so they can breathe and soak up the sunny rays.
Trying something different or innovative? Take a picture and tag @wellgrownhome on Instagram. All the best and enjoy the fall harvest!