Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts

Make sure your plants have the help they need to beat the frost

With winter now in full swing, it's only natural for gardeners to worry about the effect that frost will have on the plants and wildlife in their green space.

Cold weather – and particularly frost – can lead to lots of damage to plants, as it causes the water in their cells to freeze up, resulting in damage to the cell wall.

It's pretty easy to spot a plant that's been affected by frost – it'll likely look limp, distorted and blackened. Evergreens tend to go brown when frozen, while the leaves of tender plants can become translucent.

Plants that face into the morning sun are generally the worst affected, because the warmth leads them to defrost quickly, rupturing the cell walls in the process.

Although you wouldn't necessarily think it, even tough evergreens and other hardy plants can come off second best in the battle with the sub-zero conditions if the soil they're planted in gets frozen. Their roots will be unable to take up water, causing them to die from lack of moisture intake.

Fortunately, there's lots you can do to ensure that the chill in the air won't leave your garden barren. January and February are often the coldest months of the year, so December is the perfect opportunity for you to take action.

First of all, if you've got delicate plants like herbs, they can be protected from the frost by placing them in greenhouses.

Other plants, such as bay, myrtle, olive and French lavender, will be just fine if you move them under cover or close to the house if they're in containers. Alternatively, if they're in situ, simply coat them with a fleece.

Meanwhile, plants that are trained against walls can be shielded with fleeces or blankets hung on a simple frame. During frosty evenings, a layer of straw or bracken leaves makes for an effective barrier when placed between two large sections of chicken wire.

In a similar vein, a thick layer of straw, mulch or old leaves can be used to protect tender bulbs and corms, as it will stop the ground from freezing over.

If you grow thyme to use in the kitchen, it can be kept in tip-top condition by placing a cloche over it, helping it to stay leafier.

Another handy tip to help tender plants is to leave their old growth un-pruned, as it can help to protect the central crown of the plant and will soak up the majority of the damage. Cutting plants back in autumn can result in them being harmed once the temperature plummets.

Some gardens have areas that are particularly prone to freezing up. It's important to make sure that fragile plants are kept away from these pockets of land.

While not a preventative measure now that winter is already here, it's wise if you're worried about frost to avoid using fertilizers that are high in nitrogen. They encourage plants to grow in a leafy, sappy manner, which can be particularly susceptible to damage from the frost.