Gardening Basics: The Facts About Frost Damage
Many plants thrive in the cold and have evolved to protect themselves against frost. However, there are some plants in your garden that are more fragile, particularly in the spring when you're trying to keep budding plants and flowers alive and give them a chance to grow. All it takes is one unexpected freezing night to kill some of those precious plants and flowers you work so hard to cultivate. Planting in your garden early to squeeze in more weeks of growing time only increases the chance you'll encounter some spring frost. Get the facts about frost damage, including how it occurs, why it's dangerous, what plants you need to protect and useful prevention tips.
How Frost Happens
Late winter and early spring are when many frosty mornings occur. Plants and flowers do as much as they can to trap warmth and energy from the sun during the day, but on a cold, windless night, all that heat and energy is put to the test by the moisture in the air and the freezing temperature. With little wind to keep air moving, even a low level of moisture in the air settles into dew, and that dew freezes on the surfaces of plants and flowers that are exposed in your garden. The cells in these plants can only hold out for so long, and when they start shutting down, the plants inch closer to permanent damage or death.
Plants In Danger
In addition to budding plants and flowers that are more susceptible to freezing conditions and frost in their early lifecycles, there are several kinds of plants that aren't as prepared to handle a threatening night of frost. Any tropical plants like hibiscus flowers, palms, ferns or silver grass are endangered by frost and commonly grown in cold-weather climates like the Northeast and the Midwest. Shrubs like azaleas are also more open to damage, as well as fragile flowers like dahlias, chrysanthemums or sunflowers. You'll also want to take precautions to protect any potted plants in your garden, as they have less protection being above ground in exposed containers.
Frost Hardy Plants
There are a wide variety of plants, vegetables and flowers that can survive more dangerous frost conditions. Flowers like violets or forget-me-nots are known for being able to withstand freezing temperatures, while plants like certain berry bushes and witchhazel can deal with harsh winters. In addition, vegetables such as spinach, kale, carrots, broccoli, turnips and cauliflower are known for their ability to grow in colder temperatures. The important thing to remember is that even if you're growing plants, flowers and vegetables in your garden, there are preventative measures that you can accomplish with tools and supplies around your home or in your toolshed.
Spring Prevention Tips
One of the best ways to help prevent frost damage is to water your yard or garden thoroughly before you go to sleep. An extra session of watering at twilight can essentially insulate the plants against the freezing temperatures to help them get through the night. You can also avoid frost damage by strategically arranging your garden, planting around your house to put more fragile plants in warmer places so they can get the most sun, or planting in naturally insulated areas in your yard to fend off the cold. If all else fails, you can always cover the plants that are susceptible to frost with plant covers, tarps or repurposed items like mixing bowls, jars and food containers.