You know you’ve entered the “joys of western gardening club” when …
It feels like summer one day… and the next day you’re bracing yourself for frosts, freezes and snow.
(I’m not crying. I have something in my eye.)
If you’d like your annuals — your one-season flowers — to stay alive, it’s helpful to find ways to protect them from Mother Nature’s cold snaps.
So, in this article, you’ll find 6 ways to help protect your tender flowers from frosts and freezes.
You’ll also find a tip to help protect your trees and shrubs, which can be vulnerable to sudden cold spells too.
Protecting your sensitive plants is about finding ways to keep them warm.
When you see your neighbors frantically covering their tender flowers, what they’re trying to do is keep their plants warm.
If you can keep your plants just 5 degrees warmer than the cold conditions around them, it often can make a big difference for your plants.
As you look for ways to protect your flowers, ask yourself:
“Is what I’m doing going to help generate or retain heat around my plants?”
If it’s not, skip it and look for another option.
Here are 6 ways to keep your flowers warm:
1) Thoroughly water the dirt (aka, “soil”) around your flowers.
If watering feels counter-intuitive when we’re talking about freezing temperatures, I’m with you.
But watering your soil before a freeze can actually help warm your plants.
And remember, heat is the goal here.
Damp soil can keep the surface air around your flowers up to 5 degrees warmer than surrounding temperatures.
Because moist soil retains heat better than dry soil. It can warm up during the day and help offer heat at night.
Tip: It helps to water during the day. That way, the soil warms up, and any water that splashes on your plants has time to dry before temperatures drop. (Wet leaves, flowers and stems freeze more quickly than dry ones.) When you’re done watering, be sure to unscrew your hose, so you avoid any issues with pipes freezing and breaking. Because we’re trying to remove headaches, not create them, am I right?
2) Move your pots of flowers to a warmer, protected area.
I know some flowerpots are too heavy to move, but move what you can.
A mudroom or an attached garage can work well as a temporary holding space when temperatures dip.
If you can’t bring your containers inside, even moving them to a dry, covered area on a porch or deck may help.
I would try to put your containers right next to your home out of the wind. Look for a spot where the walls may radiate some heat. Depending on how cold it’s going to get, you also may want to add on tip #3 below.
Keep in mind, cold air sinks and warm air rises, so avoid moving your pots to the low spots in your yard.
3) Build a “tent” around your flowers.
This one sounds a little complicated, but let’s keep it simple.
Here’s all you’re trying to do.
You’re covering your flowers with a cloth fabric to keep the heat in, but you’re staking the fabric up (the best you can) so it doesn’t touch your plants.
The photo above may look like at an attempt at a spooky Halloween display, but it’s actually an impromptu tent for my cosmos flowers.
To create a tent, you can use:
- For your frame: Metal rods, tomato cages, lawn furniture, shepherd’s hooks for hanging flower pots, etc. Get creative!
- For your cover: Woven cloth fabrics like old bed sheets, pillow cases, towels, a lightweight picnic blanket… basically, the items you want to donate from your linen closet. You also can use “garden fabrics,” like a commercial-grade landscape fabric or heavier types of “floating row covers” (which are fabrics used in vegetable gardening). I would look for garden fabrics at local, independent garden centers and online.
- For your clips: You can use safety pins, binder clips from your office, plastic clips, etc.
If you want to keep it really simple, I’ve given you a pre-made tent option at the end of this section.
So, why does using cloth fabric matter?
It all comes back to heat.
Woven cloth fabrics offer better insulation than plastic materials.
They don’t conduct the cold like plastic does.
Ideally, you want to extend the tent all the way to the ground.
I’d extend your tent all the way to the ground (even over a flowerpot), so you can capture the heat from the ground.
Pin or clip the fabric together to keep cold air out and warm air in.
If you have gaps in your tent (even down at the ground), you’re losing heat.
If possible, try not to let the fabric touch a plant:
- This helps keep the warm air circulating around your entire plant.
- And in some cases, if wet fabric touches your plant, you may accidentally cause the damage you’re trying to prevent.
If this sounds like too much work, there are pre-made frost protection tents for your plants.
You can see an example in the photo below.
Search online for phrases like:
- “Plant protection tents” or
- “Pop-up plant protectors”
These tents quickly pop up. They’re easy to use. And because they flatten up when you’re done, they’re easy to store.
4) Avoid using plastic sheets to cover your plants, unless you have no other option.
Because plastic doesn’t have the insulating properties of woven fabric.
Plus, if plastic is touching your plants, it can conduct the cold and contribute to the damage you’re trying to prevent.
But if you don’t have other options, make it work, baby!
It can be better than nothing.
Just prop it up, so it doesn’t touch your plants.
5) Place empty containers over tender plants to trap warmth from the ground around your plants.
You can use boxes, buckets, recycling bins, garbage cans, empty flowerpots and other containers.
These devices can work well if you’re going to get snow because they’re unlikely to collapse under the weight.
Just remove these covers during the day when it warms up.
6) Get creative with ways to generate heat around your flowers.
You may see your neighbors filling milk jugs with hot water or placing warm bricks near their plants.
Both options can create warmth in the shelters you’re placing around your plants.
It’s like a little campfire for your plants.
All these methods should work well for BRIEF temperature dips.
But if you’re going to get an arctic blast (especially one that lasts a few days), you may need a stronger heat source.
Or, you may want to try doubling up on the methods above.
Do you have to do anything when a frost or freeze is in the forecast?
If you’re reading this article in the fall, nope, you don’t have to do anything.
You can sit back and see what Mother Nature throws at you, especially if you’re ready for your flower season to be over. But if you’d like your flowers to last a little longer, it helps to protect your plants.
In the spring, it’s a good idea protect your newly-purchased flowers, especially your summer annuals. These are your tender flowers that grow for one season only and don’t like frost.
That way, you don’t have to buy replacement flowers!
Let’s chat for a sec about your trees and shrubs.
At our lower elevations in states like Colorado, we can get big temperature swings that are really hard on our trees and shrubs.
When temperatures plummet in the fall, your trees and shrubs don’t get the chance to ease into dormancy.
These plants haven’t had a chance to gradually turn the water in their veins into “antifreeze” yet.
Even when we aren’t facing big temperature swings, our trees are often drought-stressed.
And “stressed” is not the way you want them entering winter!
It can help to give your trees and shrubs a deep, soaking water before a freeze too.
If you have a newly-planted tree or shrub, water the root ball area.
Otherwise, soak the ground around the outer circumference zone of your tree (out where the branches of leaves end), rather than soaking the trunk area.
This outer area is known as your tree’s “drip line,” and it’s where your tree’s roots are actively absorbing water.
Going from a beautiful garden to a freezing mess stinks, but it’s part of gardening life in western states like Colorado, Wyoming and Utah.
If you think it’s tough to be a gardener here, remember it’s even tougher to be a plant. 🙂
But you’ve got this.
If you want to protect your tender flowers and keep them alive, I hope these tips help you feel more confident in what you’re trying to do!
Related tips that may interest you:
- Is it better to empty your flowerpots in the spring or fall?
- How frosts and freezes affect your flowers
- Flowers that can struggle when planted in the fall (in states like Colorado and Wyoming)
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