Plants are location specific when it comes to climate tolerance. Although there are plants that will thrive in many weather or climate conditions (up to a certain degree), most plants cannot survive outside of their native climate zones. And then you have frost.
As a feature of the Western climate, frost is ubiquitous, and it is a frequent plant killer on its own. Frost introduces drastic temperature changes from the norm which can wreak havoc on your garden overnight. Most plants are not able to cope with sudden temperature dips below freezing point, as is the case with frost.
Frost comes in several varieties
- Hoar frost – Small ice crystals on the surface of the ground/plants.
- Wind frost – Spiky ice crystals formed from constant cold winds.
- Window frost – Ice crystals form outside window panes from temperature differences within and without the building.
- White frost – Heavy hoar frost with large ice crystals
So what can you do about it? Firstly, be aware of the warning signs of oncoming frost.
Warning signs of approaching frost
- Lack of wind, and motionless air
- Low temperature (<10 degrees Celcius) at noon
- Thin to no cloud cover in the sky
- Low humidity
These signs at bed time may indicate frost around 3-5 am. Try to get your exposed plants indoors, or at least under the porch; if that is not possible, cover them with some plastic sheets pinned to stakes in the ground.
Train your garden to build up frost resistance
The best time to prepare for frost is during the maximum growth phase of plants, which is basically during late spring-early summertime. These are the times when plant growth is fastest. By the time summer hits, try to feed the plants less nitrogen-heavy fertilizers, because nitrogen encourages new growth that would not be able to mature in time for autumn. New growth lowers the resistance of plants to cold temperatures.
Keep the soil around the base of the plants moist, when cold weather arrives, because moist soil retains heat better than dry soil. This should also help prepare the plants for sudden frost spells during late summer. Sudden frosts during the warm months are more dangerous than autumn or winter frosts, because the plants would be dormant during cold seasons.
Get familiar with the zones in your garden
There are small microclimate zones in almost every garden which you would do well to get familiar with. Open ground, hollows, inclines, and enclosed areas that trap cold air, are usually the coldest zones in any garden. Within this lattice of microclimate zones, are warmer spots, such as under the branches of evergreen trees, overhanging eaves, shed roofs, and behind southward facing walls.
Choose hardy plant species’ for the general and basic layout. The less robust plants should be sited in the borders, or less noticeable areas, as fillers. It is also best to plant them in containers, so that they can be moved to warmer areas when frost is about to hit.
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