Temperatures have noticeably dropped over the past few weeks. It’s got very close to freezing in my garden, so it’s safe to say the first frosts of winter aren’t far off. Preparing the garden for the colder months ahead is a wise move, to keep overwintering plants and your hard-working soil happy. Read on our watch our video to discover simple, cost-effective ways to do just that.
Protect Soil in Winter
Leaving soil exposed risks depleting the beneficial life contained within it. Keep the likes of worms, bugs and fungi happy by laying organic matter over the surface before it gets too cold. A layer of organic material such as well-rotted compost or manure, spread 1-2in (3-5cm) deep is thick enough to keep soil life fed and protect the soil itself from erosion, yet thin enough to enable hard frosts to penetrate the soil below, thereby helping to control overwintering pests.
Fast Frost Protection
Keep horticultural fleece and clear plastic at the ready so they can be used at a moment’s notice. Store them somewhere dry, ideally neatly rolled up and off the ground to keep them clear of vermin such as mice. Dirty polythene covers should be washed down then dried so they’re ready to deploy.
When frost threatens, or if you simply want to extend your cropping period, the row covers can quickly be put into position, held down at the sides with stones, bricks or staples.
Homemade Crop Protection
Don’t forget the many homemade options for cold weather protection. Clear plastic bottles, cut in half, are great for fitting over individual small plants, either outside or as an added layer of warmth inside the greenhouse.
Cold frames can be costly but it’s very easy to make your own. Check out our step by step guide to making your own cold frame.
Clear plastic may also be secured onto homemade hoops, making a handy tunnel cloche. The one below uses lengths of PVC water pipe, secured onto lengths of rebar hammered into the ground and connected at the top by a central ridge of piping. It’s an effective way to keep winter hardy salads and vegetables safe from harsh weather.
Protecting Root Crops from Frost
Many root crops such as carrots and beetroot can be left in the ground until they’re needed. Some, like parsnips, actively improve with frost, becoming more tender and sweeter.
Lay a mulch of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mold about six inches (15cm) thick to help keep frosts at bay, but if the ground is likely to freeze solid for weeks on end, dig up your root crops to store them somewhere cool, dry and frost-free.
In winter the biggest enemy of containerised crops such as herbs is the wet. Persistently wet potting soil can turn lethal in cold weather. Make sure excess moisture can drain away by lifting up containers onto pot feet. You can use elegant pot feet, or just improvise with stones, for example.
Delicate containers can crack if potting soil freezes solid and expands. You can stop this happening by wrapping pots up in bubble plastic or hessian. Or look for pots sold as frost-resistant. Sensitive plants and pots can also be moved somewhere more sheltered – against the house for instance, or into a greenhouse.
Insulate Your Greenhouse
Inside a greenhouse it makes more sense to protect individual plants rather than trying to heat the entire structure. Wrap frost-sensitive plants up in row cover fabric. Alternatively, section off an area of the greenhouse and heat this smaller space instead.
Old polystyrene fish boxes are great for insulating smaller plants like winter salad leaves against the worst of the cold. Most already include drainage slots at the corners, so you can fill them with potting soil and plant directly. Or just drop trays and pots into the boxes for a snug fit. Cover with fabric or plastic overnight for extra protection.
Know Your First Frost Date
Knowing when to expect your first frost is important for planning your frost protection. Our Garden Planner uses your precise location to anticipate the date when this is likely to occur, so you’re pre-warned and can take action to winter-proof your plot. Don’t forget to keep an eye on the weather forecast too.
Help your plants stay warmer or use the frosts to your advantage. Either way, being prepared will help you to successfully work with winter. How do you get ready for the frosty weather? You can let us know in the comments section below.