It may be a bit late to prepare for the ‘beast from the east’, but bad weather today has opened eyes to the importance of preparing for future problems. So before you head indoors for a hot drink, take care of your vulnerable plants first!
Rule 1: Prevention is better than the cure
Nobody sets out to plan their garden around once-a-year freak weather, BUT you should have a sense of what your garden might have in store. Make sure you’re on top of the weather forecasts, and take all the right precautions in the lead up to winter.
It’s important too to ensure your plants are planted in suitable spaces where possible, relatively sheltered from wind but with plenty of sunlight and space to grow.
Small, delicate or exotic plants that aren’t suited to freezing conditions are in particular need of protective measures.
Rule 2: Lawns need a break
All plants contain microscopic channels carrying moisture, which is needed to provide nutrition and support growth. Unfortunately the water stored inside these can freeze in winter, and subsequently expands, which tears the fibres of the plant.
This, combined with low sunlight, saturation, generally colder weather and reduced nutrition means many plants really struggle in winter. This is especially true for lawns, which rarely grow at all and can become off-colour and patchy during winter.
Worst of all for your lawn is snow, which completely blocks off light and leaves each blade of grass extremely vulnerable to damage - this is the main reason it’s very important not to walk on your lawn in the snow (however much you may want to!) and to avoid disturbing the snow.
Even melting across the lawn ensures even damage and a consistent recovery, whereas areas more heavily damaged (such as by having a snowman built on them) will take longer to recover and look messy after the remainder of your lawn has recovered.
Rule 3: Add Mulch
Mulching is a great way to shield your plants from the worst of the weather, and prevent the soil around the plant becoming too frozen or compacted. Mulch can be all kinds of material, from compost or manure to straw and wood chippings, and is especially useful in insulating exposed plants.
Ironically, a light layer of snow itself can work as a kind of mulch, shielding plants and preventing damage. However, thicker snow can damage plants by weighting down branches, killing leaves and destroying nutrients in the soil.
Mulching is popular when dealing with winter vegetable crops like carrots, onions and parsnips that will need to be harvested over the cold seasons.
Wrapping plants is another way to ensure good protection from harsh elements: use canes, stakes or frames to avoid too much contact with the plant you’re trying to protect, and ensure comprehensive coverage with horticultural fleece, hessian or plastic wrapping. Ensure you also wrap pots- bubble wrap is perfect for this job.
For more delicate plants, it’s always worth considering moving them indoors or into a greenhouse if you can. Using a gas heater to warm them may also be a good idea if they’re very delicate.
You can also use a cloche to cover smaller plants, either in a greenhouse or indoors for protection, or outside for a little additional insulation from bad weather. A bell cloche is a perfect way to cover smaller plants and herbs that might be too small to effectively cover with wrap or fleece, and also allows easy access if needed.
Rule 4: Prepare
If the ground is due to become frosted, it’s important you take steps sooner rather than later. Keeping your plants fed is vital to help them survive bad weather.
This means providing a generous feeding before any frost or snow hardens the ground- once this happens, you’ll find it hard to feed your plants, and the frozen ground will lock away any nutrients at the time your plants will need them most.
Getting their food in early before the bad weather arrives will give your plants the boost they need to push through the bad weather. Equally important is to ensure your plants are elevated, to allow any extra water to drain away- in case this then freezes, which could damage roots.
And remember; keep warm at all times- top up with regular hot drinks while outside, watch out for ice and, if you can, do a little extra for the local wildlife- you can go back indoors, but they’re outside all day!