How to protect your plants in winter
Assistant campaigner - policy & advocacy
While battling the elements is part of nature for all plants, you might not want to leave your favourite plants to brave winter conditions without any help. Plants can be seriously damaged by the extremes of winter, including fluctuating temperatures and the impacts of wind, rain, frost and snow.
Leaves can be killed by frost, soil can saturate or dehydrate and roots can rot. Many non-native plants just aren’t cut out for our infamous British weather, so they will definitely need some protection. Here’s our handy guide on how to protect your garden plants over winter.
Credit: WTML/Beverley Gormley
Frost, excessive rain and cold can get into your potted plants anywhere, ground up. The best option is to bring potted plants and hanging baskets inside. But if this isn’t possible, there are steps you can take to protect them outside.
To prevent roots from freezing, wrap hessian sacking around plant pots and tie firmly so it can stay there all winter. For larger plant pots you may need several layers to ensure they are fully protected from freezing. You can add straw in between the layers for extra insulation. For the tops of the plants, place frost protection covers over the branches.
Potted plants are prone to excessive damp from heavy rainfall. This over-saturation can result in the roots being starved of vital oxygen. Prevent this by using pots with drainage holes. Placing these pots on bricks or similar objects can help too as this will allow the moisture to easily escape.
Vegetable patches and flowerbeds
If you have a vegetable patch, place straw around and on it to prevent the ground from freezing around your vegetables. You can also put mulch on top of the soil at the base of any plants in your garden to insulate the roots.
Place cloches over root crops such as carrots and parsnips. Some plants like strawberries and roses can be completely covered by mulch over winter to keep them insulated. Using straw or mulch on and around flowerbeds and ensuring the beds are raised can help to protect them from frost and heavy rain too.
If you have delicate or tropical plants, such as succulents, the best place for them over winter is indoors. They’ll still need access to heated sunlight, however - perhaps in a greenhouse or conservatory. Make sure they’re not touching window glass as that can transfer cold outside temperatures to the plant. Succulents tend to go into a rest period during winter so ensure the soil dries out fully between watering.
If you’ve got palm trees in your garden, protect them from the worst of the weather by tying the leaves up towards the centre to protect the growing point at the base of the leaves. If it’s particularly cold, you can pack this area with straw to provide an extra level of insulation.
Wind can increase cold damage to plants, or in drier weather result in dehydration. The most effective way to protect your plants from the wind is by placing them in sheltered areas next to fences. Permeable fences tend to give better protection as they still allow for airflow, rather than plants facing the turbulence that comes from wind going over impermeable obstacles.
Thinking more long-term, planting rows of trees in your garden or creating a hedgerow will provide ideal protection for your other, more delicate plants. We provide a mix of hedgerow trees in the Woodland Trust shop.
Frost and snow
If frost is expected, covering exposed plants with frost protection covers will prevent them from freezing. Put stakes that are taller than the plant, such as bamboo, in the soil next to the plant so the cover can go over the whole plant without touching and damaging its leaves.
If they are plants that need light (if they still have leaves in winter), make sure to take the cover off during the day so they can get light and air.
If it snows, use a broom to gently knock snow off tree branches and other plants before it freezes. They may look tough but don’t forget to do this for evergreen trees too. Snow can be damaging because branches can sag under the weight leading to broken branches and weakened limbs.
Many of our native trees have evolved to cope with the harsh cold weather winter can throw at us in the UK. Fill your garden with trees such as elder, goat willow or rowan that will be able to survive winter.
Trees that are evergreen, such as holly, have leaves all year and are very resilient, meaning your garden will still exhibit some pretty greenery during the winter months.
Native trees are also better for helping your garden’s resident wildlife get through winter as these species have adapted to survive together. Choose from a range of native trees in the Woodland Trust shop.
If you follow all these steps your garden plants have a much better chance of surviving the colder months.