How to

4 April 2017

Identifying, Treating and Preventing Frost Damage in your Garden

Frost damage can do a lot of harm to your lovingly-cultivated plants during the bitter winter months. Usually presenting soon after freezing, although sometimes this is delayed by as much as several months, the symptoms of frost damage may include; scorching and brown patches appearing between leaf veins, blackened foliage of perennials, damaged blossom and young fruits, spotting on leaves, and eventually, if left untreated, death.

Plants do in fact have a few in-built mechanisms to help them prevent and ultimately survive the condition. The bark, for example, serves as an insulator, while some species make a form of anti-freeze using sugars and amino acids. In particularly severe conditions such as those of the Arctic, many plants can even dehydrate their cells entirely, preventing freezing from occurring. However, sometimes these natural defences just aren’t enough, and you may have to offer your garden plants a little helping hand.

The easiest way to prevent the onset of frost damage is to select plants which are naturally hardy and resistant to the elements, but there is more you can do. If you do choose to plant more tender species, it is advised to grow them in a sunny spot protected from the worst o0f the elements (south-facing walls do particularly well at this). Be careful to avoid ‘frost pockets’, where cold air will naturally sink.

Another good technique is to cover your plants with an insulting fleece, many varieties of which are available at most garden centres. Mulching the root area will also help to provide some natural insulation, preventing the ground from freezing.

Where possible, moving plants indoors or into a greenhouse is the best way to protect them from the weather.

If damage has already occurred, the Royal Horticultural Society offer the following treatment advice:
  • If no more frost is expected, prune out damaged growth, cutting to an undamaged sideshoot or bud
  • After pruning, apply a top dressing of a general-purpose fertiliser, such as Growmore at the manufacturer’s recommended rate, to encourage strong re-growth
  • If a fence or hedge is causing a ‘frost pocket’ consider creating a gap, or remove some of the lower growth to improve cold air drainage
  • Frost may lift newly-planted shrubs out of the ground, so check and re-firm the ground around them
  • In gardens exposed to cold winds, consider creating more shelter by planting a shelterbelt
  • Even though the foliage of dahlias and cannas has been blackened by frost the roots are alive and can still be protected or lifted and stored

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.