Protecting Plants in Winter

29 January 2020

Although winter is a great time for planting, sometimes the weather can stop you in your tracks. If you find yourself with a new delivery of bare root or root ball hedge plants but the ground is frozen or water logged, here’s a guide that will help you to find the best way to protect your plants until the conditions improve.

1. Watering

Determining when frost will strike is not easy, especially with the unpredictable UK weather. However, as temperatures drop and frost is expected, watering two or three days prior to this will help protect your plants. Adding water when frost is imminent can seem a bit of a contradictory task, however wet soil will hold more heat than dry soil so it can be very beneifical in these conditions. Remember though, that it is just as bad to over water as it is to under water your plants. Over watering in these circumstances will be consequential in early spring as it will allow your plants to be exposed to frost heave. So, a little water is good, but not too much, as plants require very little at this time and you just need to dampen the ground.

2. Cover Your Plants

Covering tender garden plants in the evening will help retain heat and protect them from freezing as temperatures drop overnight. Ensure that covers are removed during the day so they are exposed to sunlight, or else tender plants may suffocate.

3. Remove Snow

This applies mostly to the larger, dense evergreen plants that are big enough to gather snow on their foliage. You may see small snowflakes falling from the sky and with a blink of an eye, there is a thick layer of snow that has the tendency to make UK residents have a meltdown (no pun intended). When collected on foliage, this thick layer of snow will put a large amount of pressure on the plants structure and can result in damage to branches. Be sure to gently shake the foliage of these plants to remove the collection of snow as this will reduce the combined weight that heavy snow fall can create.

4. Leave Fallen Foliage

Gardeners have the tendency to remove fallen foliage as it’s not the most attractive look. It may not be the best looking option, but it certainly is beneficial and appeals to the lazy gardener as it requires no work. The fallen foliage is a great heat insulator and will protect the soil from becoming frozen. This is a great excuse to have a ‘spring clean’ once the weather warms up and clear away the leaves once they’re no longer needed.

5. Containers

Frost proof containers are available to prevent traditional pots from cracking as this allows efficient access for frost to gain access to the main root system. On the other hand, lift pots and containers inside for protection.

6. Mulching

Mulch is popular with gardeners as it has the ability to preserve moisture and holds in heat during cold weather. We suggest keeping the depth at about two inches.

7. Raised Garden Bed

As cold air collects at ground level, adding a raised garden bed will contribute towards the protection of your tender plants during winter. The structure of these raised beds will make the previously mentioned option of covering your plants a lot easier.

Root Type

1. Pot grown plants

For pot grown plants the first thing you need to do is keep them in their pots as this will protect the root mass from being exposed to freezing conditions which can easily damage or break small roots, resulting in a weak start for the plant.

You can store your pot grown hedging and trees for up to a week in a cool, dry shed or garage, or if space is limited, they can be kept outside, lying them flat if there is a risk of strong winds blowing them over.  It’s best to store them away from warm temperatures as your plants can suffer shock if there is a dramatic environmental change such as moving them back outside to the cold when planting. As with all containerised plants, you need to ensure they are kept on a level, free-draining surface to avoid the soil becoming water logged.

You can plant your container grown hedge plants as soon as the ground thaws and you can feel some moisture in the soil.

2. Root ball plants

Root ball plants are delivered with a hessian sack surrounding the root system and soil mass, and this should be left on during both storage and planting.
Root ball plants should be stored in a cool, dry place sheltered from winds and frost, and extra insulation can be added by covering the hessian sack with straw. The hessian should prevent the root ball from drying out but you can give it a light watering should you notice any signs of desiccation.
As soon as any snow or frost has disappeared and the ground has properly thawed, you can safely plant your root ball hedge plants, leaving the hessian sack on – this will decompose naturally over time.

Root balls
Root balls

3. Bare root plants

Bare root plants should be planted as soon as possible after delivery, however when planting conditions are poor, it is safe to store them until the planting site is more hospitable.
The main thing to remember when storing bare root plants is to keep the roots moist. You should keep them in a sheltered, dry and cool location such as a shed or garage, and they can be stored like this for up to a week.
After a week, if the conditions of your planting site have still not improved, you will need to temporarily plant your bare root plants. You can either ‘heel them in’ in a trench in your garden or plant them in a free-draining container with compost around the roots. Providing you water regularly, both of these solutions can be successful for up to a few weeks.

Root balls
Bare roots

Winter can be a tough time for plants, however these measures can be taken to protect and help them prosper. If you have any questions on anything in this blog, or want to share your own great tips for winter gardening, please drop us a message on Facebook or Tweet us, we would love to hear from you!