Even in warmer climates, you should always be prepared in the event Jack Frost decides to come nipping at your nose. Citrus, succulents, and avocado plants can all be susceptible to frost damage and are popular among regional gardeners. Protecting your plants through the colder winter months will ensure healthy plants throughout the rest of the year, with minimal damage and less replanting.
Even a small frost can cause big damage by creating ice crystals within the plant cells and blocking the movement of water. Frost damaged leaves can appear waterlogged and shriveled, turning black or brown as they decay. Planting your gardens based on your hardiness zone will help you find the plants best suited for the weather of your area. You can also decrease your frost damage risk by strategically placing tender plants in more protected areas, such as near the house or other structures, under eaves, or under canopies of taller trees and bushes. Avoid low areas where cold air can settle or open, exposed areas where they will be exposed to all the elements.
Protecting plants from frost is easy and can just take a few minutes on the nights when frost warnings are declared. Ensure the soil around the plants is moist, as wet soil retains heat much better than dry. Drop cloths, plastic sheets, light blankets or bed sheets can all make suitable coverings for vulnerable plants. Use stakes to ensure the covering does not touch the plant, especially when using plastic. Remove the coverings when the temperature rises the next day – otherwise they can create a greenhouse effect and generate too much heat within.
Potted plants can be moved to an area close to the house to protect them from the cold. For trees or large clusters of plants, you can even consider winding holiday lights (the traditional kind, as the LEDs will not emit any heat) around and throughout to add some extra heat. Lights can heat the area up to three degrees, often enough to fight off the frost. Just be sure any lights do not touch covering materials if you are utilizing those as well.
You may also consider spraying your vulnerable plants with an anti-transpirant, such as Bonide Wilt Stop. This will act as a thin protective coating, keeping moisture in and frost at bay. One coating can last up to three months and can be a good choice for cold-sensitive plants you may not be able to properly cover or move.
If you notice frost damaged leaves or foliage, wait until spring to prune or remove. Plants can be surprisingly resilient and while some of the plant may have taken damage, the plant may still be able to generate new growth. Letting decaying and damaged leaves stay in place will add protection for the plant until warm weather returns. Once you see new growth, prune away the dead and damaged leaves. Once the fear of frost is over, light applications of low nitrogen fertilizer can help damaged plants recover. For example, Foxfarm’s Bush Doctor Boomerang is the “comeback formula” that gives your plants a fighting chance. If no new growth can be seen after some time, dig up the plant and replace it with something a little heartier to handle next winter.
Taking a few minutes to prep and protect your garden from cold snaps will make gardening easier come spring. Keeping soil wet, plants covered, and using good planting strategies will create a beautiful garden for you to enjoy year after year.