Winter Protection for Tender Plants


We’re all tempted by plants that are marginally winter-hardy for our parts of Texas. Simply put, we press our luck.

That’s where “frost cloth” can come to your aid. It won’t absolutely stop all winter kill, but it will certainly reduce the amount of damage that cold can do.

First help is that it stops the cold, harsh winds from desiccating your plants’ foliage. The photo shows aspidistra (cast iron plants) covered in our Metroplex-area landscape a couple of winters ago. Leaves that didn’t get covered suffered serious tip and edge burn from the wind.

More importantly, frost cloth allows the sun’s rays to pass through and warm the soil, then it traps the heat like a thermal blanket as it is released from the soil into the air around the plants. In doing so, it can make as much as 6 or 8 degrees of difference in how your plants fare.

Buy your frost cloth ahead of time. Independent retail garden centers and hardware stores usually have it on hand (or can order it in for you), but only if you shop ahead of the last-minute rush. It’s also widely available online.

I cut and fit my frost cloth over my sensitive plants weeks or months before the time of need. I allow ample extra on the edges, then I fold the pieces neatly and label where they are to be used. I place them in large plastic trash bags or boxes, and label them clearly. That way, two of us can easily stretch them out and over the plants. I use bricks to weight them down to the ground.

Why not plastic? Polyethylene plastic film traps the sun’s rays early on cold, clear mornings. Plants beneath plastic overheat quickly, resulting in rapid thawing and far more damage than they would receive if left uncovered completely. If you can’t find frost cloth, old sheets can work in a pinch.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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