Common household item ‘protects’ plants in frost – ‘tell-tale signs’

This Morning: Daisy talks about winter gardening tasks

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As the days get shorter and temperatures drop, it is key for gardeners to protect their plants especially if they’re non-hardy or tropical varieties. Other plants that may need protecting are crops like chilli plants, legume pods and seeds and flowers.

Kate Turner, Miracle Gro’s Gardening Guru, has shared her tips to help Britons protect their plants and prepare before the winter months.

Impact of frost on the garden

Frost is caused by cold, clear, still nights when the air drops below freezing. Ground frost affects lawns and roots while air frost affects stems, leaves, flowers and fruit.

Kate said: “Water in the plant’s cells freeze, expands and then bursts leaving the plant unable to take up water and nutrients.

“When soil or compost freezes for any length of time then roots are unable to take up water and the whole plant will show signs of drought and may eventually die.

“Short-term frost damage can often be reparable but rapid thawing can be fatal as can long-term extreme frost.”

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First signs of frost damage

The first signs of frost damage include “black scorching and brown patches” on leaves. Kate said these are “tell-tale signs” of frost damage.

Other signs include wilting, and shrivelling leaves turning black and the stem of the plant tipping over. Kate added: “You’ll also notice your plants being pushed up from the soil in the ground.”

Plants most susceptible to frost damage

Kate explained: “Tender and exotic plants such as bananas, cannas, dahlias, tomatoes, and courgettes are the most susceptible to frost, and will need the most attention to help keep them protected.”

Hardy plants that survive frost

Hardy, native plants and those that are used to colder climates survive best in frosty conditions.

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Kate said: “Trees and shrubs with thick bark will survive as their bark acts as an insulator, keeping the heat in.

“Deciduous trees and shrubs that lose their leaves will also survive, as there’s less risk of cell rupture.”

How to protect plants from frost

Bring any tender plants inside before the risk of frost, if you can. Outside, put containers together near a wall or under trees and shrubs to avoid planting in a frost pocket like at the bottom of a slope.

Kate added: “Be wary of planting susceptible plants in an east-facing situation, as the early morning sun can cause rapid thawing.

“Cover your plants with horticultural fleece, easily found in garden centres and DIY stores or wrap pots in bubble wrap to help keep heat in over the colder months.

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“To protect soil and plant roots from freezing and help retain moisture, mulch plants in thick borders with a fibresmart mulch.

“Another tip is to leave pruning of plants such as penstemon, salvias and fuchsias until late spring to allow the older growth to protect the central crown.”

Treating frost damage

Don’t prune out damaged growth until the risk of frost has definitely passed, otherwise, gardeners can risk exposing any new growth to damaging spring frosts. Kate added: “It’s never too late to wrap fleece around your plant!”

Vegetables that need protection

Kate said: “Summer vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes and peppers will not survive a frost and are treated as annuals.

“However, some people have success overwintering chilli plants indoors where they keep them alive ready to start growing again in the spring.

“Many vegetables can be grown outside in the winter including Brussels sprouts, cabbages and leeks. Did you know, leeks benefit from frost as this encourages them to become sweeter! The sugar in the plant can act as a natural anti-freeze.

“With the larger veg plants, such as the brassica family, make sure that they are firmly in the soil as a frost can often push the plant up and out. If they do start to rise, push them down and cover with a thick layer of mulch.”

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