As the weather cools down, plants will need covering, bulbs will need lifting or mulching and extra winter protection given to tender specimens which will have to be brought indoors if they are to survive the frost of the coldest months.
4 steps to protect plants from frost damage
So, what steps should you be taking to protect your plants from frost this winter?
1. Wrap them up
Use horticultural fleece (available on Amazon), hessian or bubble wrap to wrap around permanent plants in pots. You need to stop the roots from freezing, which could ultimately kill the plant. If you have lots of pots, huddle them together near a house wall, where it will be slightly warmer. They will insulate each other and you can use one large length of protective material to protect all the plants. Tie the cover round them securely so it doesn’t blow off in winter.
Next time you’re planting a tender permanent specimen in a frost-resistant container, line the inside wall of the pot with bubble wrap to save you having to do it in the autumn. Remember to add drainage by poking holes in the bubble wrap to match up with the pot’s drainage holes.
Plants in borders which can’t easily be moved, such as tree ferns, should be wrapped in horticultural fleece from the base of the trunk upwards. The leaves of tree ferns and other tender plants such as cordylines should be tied upright, packed with straw and covered with horticultural fleece. A layer of mulch should be laid over the root area to keep the frost from damaging them.
2. Make a frame
Small tender shrubs can be protected with makeshift frames made from chicken wire (available on Amazon). Alternatively, a wigwam made from bamboo canes packed with straw and then covered in netting. In wet weather, you may need to temporarily cover them with clear polythene to stop them rotting in the wet.
If frost is forecast, keep a pair of old curtains to hand to cover borderline hardy plants overnight to prevent damage.
3. Move them indoors
Many tender plants, such as geraniums, begonias and half hardy fuchsias will need to be brought under cover before the first frosts. Put them in a frost-free greenhouse or garden shed to give them the best chance.
You could also consider bringing potted plants into your house for an added splash of colour.
4. Lift plants
Dig up tubers and rhizomes of tender plants like cannas and dahlias once the foliage has been blackened by the first frost. Cut them down to within 5cm (2in) of the base and dig them up with a fork, taking care to avoid damaging the rhizomes, remove all loose soil and dry them off, before storing them in boxes of dry sand or soil in a cool, frost-free place like a shed (for dahlias) or a greenhouse or conservatory (for cannas).
If you live in a mild area, you may get away with just a thick mulch such as straw or compost around the roots. If you can provide shelter for dahlias or cannas grown in containers, bring them under a porch or into an unheated greenhouse.
How to protect tropical plants from frost in winter
If you’ve got exotic plants in your garden, you need to consider how to protect these plants from frost in winter.
Lush, jungle-like plants like bananas, ginger lilies, spiky cordylines, spreading tree ferns and tropical-flowering cannas will all need some TLC to get them through the cooler months.
Some exotic-looking gems are as tough as old boots and should weather the storms of winter unscathed, including fatsias, hostas and even some palms.
But many are not. So, what do you need to do to save your exotics from the winter elements?
1. Banana (Musa)
These exotic-leaved perennials won’t survive the winter without intervention, so you’ll need to give them some lagging.
Before frost has arrived, cut away the leaves and place a wide circle of chicken wire around the stems. Fill the inside of the circle with dry straw, going from the wire right to the stem and firming it around and down. This will ensure the insulation remains in place.
Place horticultural fleece across the top of the straw to further protect the plant during the winter, but still allow air circulation. Then, when winter is over and the danger of frost has passed, remove the lagging and tidy up your plant.
Cannas are beautiful plants with leaves that open out to reveal show-stopping spikes of exotic-looking flowers in summer in shades of red, orange, yellow and pink. But these exotic plants need care if they are to survive winter.
If you’ve grown them in pots, move them to a greenhouse or conservatory to allow them to flourish for a few more weeks. Alternatively, let the first frost catch the foliage, then cut back the plants and move them to a frost-free shed or garage and stop watering them until spring.
Alternatively, dig up the rhizomes (swollen stems that grow horizontally) in the autumn, then cut down the foliage and stems to around 15cm (6in) and keep them in a frost-free dry place in multi-purpose compost.
In mild areas where your cannas are in a sunny, sheltered position, you can risk keeping them in the ground through the winter, but cover them with a 15cm (6in) deep mulch of straw and be prepared for losses in very wet or harsh winters.
3. Ginger lily
With milder winters, these towering, tropical hedychiums (as they are also known) have grown in popularity. Their huge palmate leaves giving any jungle-orientated garden a colourful pick-me-up, as well as chunky flowerheads of fragrant blooms.
These aromatic showstoppers will flower into the autumn, but once their leaves are caught by frost cut them back to around 5cm (2in) above ground level and cover the crowns with a thick dry mulch.
For extra protection, you could cover the mulch with horticultural fleece, then lift that off in spring when the weather begins to get warmer and new growth starts to appear.
If you grow ginger lilies in containers, overwinter them indoors, in a greenhouse or conservatory.
4. Tree fern (Dicksonia Antarctica)
These large ferns love moisture, flourishing in damp soils, their handsome spreading fronds emerging from the crown. They’re native to tropical regions and the forests of south east Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America, so they’re used to plenty of heat.
In late autumn, tie up the fronds emerging from the thick trunks and erect a circular tube of chicken wire around the trunk. Leaving around a foot between fern and wire, tie the circle together with cable ties. Fill the tube with straw, insulating the trunk.
If you anticipate a cold winter, cut off the exposed leaves and cover the straw with horticultural fleece or a hessian sack for further protection of this exotic plant. If the winter is mild, your leaves may withstand what winter throws at it.
Many gardeners grow these spiky candidates as central features of summer containers because of their valuable architectural structure and colourful, sword-like leaves, which range from variegated green to purple.
Also known as the cabbage palm, cordylines do best in sun or partial shade. In cold spots these exotic plants can suffer damage due to winter winds and snow, so they will need some protection.
Cordyline australis is made of strong stuff and even if you have a harsh winter, it should regenerate. But the variegated and purple types are more tender.
When cooler weather comes, you need to tie up the leaves together in a point, which stops any snow or frost reaching the crown. If your plant is in a container, place the pot on feet or bricks so water will seep straight through and not remain cold and wet on the roots.
Once you have done that, wrap the tied leaves in horticultural fleece and move them nearer to the house if you can, or move pots to a frost-free greenhouse over the winter.
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