How to Protect Your Garden Plants Throughout Winter
Keep your tender plants in good condition during the chilly months with these simple ideas to protect them
Tropical plants, such as Musa (banana plant) and Dicksonia (tree fern), may require some winter protection from the frost and cold. Other shrubs, including Pittosporum tobira and Ficus carica (fig), as well as climbers such as Passiflora mollissima and Solanum jasminoides, might also benefit from being wrapped.
The basic principles for wrapping are as follows:
- Tree ferns need a packing of straw over the crown (the branches and leaves that extend from the trunk) and a polystyrene cover to keep the rain off. In colder areas, you may also need to wrap the trunk and fronds in fleece and mulch at the base.
- For bananas that are planted outside, remove the leaves and make a chicken wire structure around the plant. Fill this with straw, pack tightly and cover over with polythene.
- For tender climbers, make sure the lower stems are protected with straw or bracken and covered with hessian or fleece.
- Ensure water never gets trapped around the crown of a plant, as this will lead to rot.
You can use a cloche or a cold frame to protect certain plants in winter. A single cloche will act as a mini greenhouse that can easily be moved around the garden, but it may need anchoring in strong winds.
A cloche will provide good protection from frosts and will also shield some crops from pests and various diseases, such as downy mildew. Make sure it’s ventilated.
A cold frame is a great option if you don’t have a greenhouse and want to protect plants such as alpines. It would also be good for overwintering annuals and vegetables. If you need to add insulation, put a layer of bubble wrap on the inside, but remember this may also reduce light levels.
If you don’t have a cloche or cold frame, but need to make sure your pots are protected, it’s best to group them together against a south-facing wall. To prevent the roots from freezing, wrap the containers in hessian or bubble wrap.
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Before storing plants, check for loose panes of glass in your greenhouse. Make sure there’s good air circulation, even in the winter months, and that it’s clean. Good housekeeping will help to prevent diseases such as grey mould, mealybugs, which can often lurk in the corners, red spider mites and glasshouse whitefly.
Remember not to overwater your plants in the winter months, as this could lead to rot and mould.
It’s also a good idea to check other structures in the garden before winter sets in. Replace and fix panels in your shed and examine fences to make sure they’re robust and will protect any plants against strong winds.
Add windbreaks, such as hedging and wattle fence hurdles, for added protection, especially on more windy sites.
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You can cover plants with horticultural fleece to promote growth and keep pests away, as well as to protect and insulate them in bad weather.
Wind and hail can seriously damage plants, so fleece will prevent stress and water loss for the plant. Being porous, it will allow excess heat and humidity to escape.
However, fleece is susceptible to damage from foxes, so check frequently to make sure it’s well anchored and intact.
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Dry, frost-free conditions and good light levels make a conservatory an ideal place to overwinter tender perennials and cold-sensitive plants. Exotic and tropical specimens can also benefit from being moved into a conservatory, especially if they’re outside in pots.
Plants that will enjoy this environment include Pelargoniums, orchids, begonias, Gardenias, standard fuchsias, plumbago, citruses, Bougainvillea, Callistemon and Agave.
Water sparingly in the winter – misting the foliage is often a better option. Also, by grouping plants together, you’ll increase air humidity.
If you’re moving a container plant indoors, pinch off any diseased or rotten leaves. Some plants may benefit from a light trim, too.
If you’re relocating and digging up plants from the soil to bring inside, try to get as much of the root ball as possible. Shake off any excess soil and pot up using fresh compost. Keep the plants cool and dry, making sure you provide them with good air circulation to prevent any fungal disease.
Check for any signs of vine weevil before potting plants that are prone to them, such as fuchsia. If you don’t remove the weevil, you may inadvertently bring them indoors.
Some tender herbaceous perennials, including Cannas and Dahlias, can be stored and left in a dormant state indoors over the winter months. Lift them and bring them inside to keep them until they’re ready to be planted out the following year.
If you live in an area with a milder winter climate, you have well-drained soil, and your garden is sheltered, you could trying leaving tender plants in the ground. Cut back the top and cover them with a heavy mulch.
If it’s very cold where you live, you may also benefit from a layer of winter mulch on other plants, as long as you aren’t trapping too much moisture and encouraging the plants to rot.
Will you be overwintering your tender plants? Share your ideas and tips in the Comments.