What does cold damage look like?
Cold damage can manifest in a number of different ways including wilted and limp foliage, scorched or brown leaf edges, mottled brown or yellow foliage and brown crumpled foliage. This usually occurs with tender plants, but can even happen with hardy plants during long periods of severe cold when the soil becomes frozen.
Once you spot cold damage the only action you can take is to remove the affected leaves or flowers before the damage spreads and becomes more severe. If the cold damage spreads the plant will not survive, therefore preventing cold from affecting the plant is far better than trying to cure it.
How can I protect my plants from cold weather?
Horticultural fleece works by trapping warm air around the plants whilst stopping frost from getting in. To protect your plants using fleece simply roll it out across or around the plants you want to protect and secure with stakes or staples. Ensure that you do not leave gaps in the fleece where the cold air can get in.
Cloches work like mini greenhouses, keeping your plant and the soil around it warm and protecting it from poor weather. Low growing plants can be protected with a cloche, however you should remove it once the harsh weather has passed as leaving it on too long can encourage disease.
Polytunnels provide similar benefits to cloches. However, a polytunnel can be used to cover a number of small plants. They are also useful if you want to protect a whole row of vegetables, particularly in the early stages of growth.
Putting mulch (organic matter) around the roots of plants will insulate and protect them from frost - however this method tends to only work effectively with hardy plants. Materials most suited to mulching include garden compost, straw and bark chippings.
Planting in a sunny yet sheltered position, such as near a south facing wall, will provide plants with some protection from harsh weather. Grouping containers together can also help protect them from the cold and wind as they insulate each other by proximity.
Should I water my plants when it’s cold?
One of the main issues for plants during cold weather is not frost, but drought damage. Plants still continue to lose moisture through their leaves but are unable to draw up water from their roots, due to the soil being frozen. It is important to keep watering plants during winter, however it is best to do it during the middle of the day when temperatures are slightly higher. Water directly onto the soil rather than on foliage or flowers so that any moisture left on the plant doesn’t freeze and cause damage.
Whilst the benefit of snow is that it acts as an insulator, protecting plants from the cold and frost, a heavy layer of snow can cause leaves and branches to break. A light layer of snow can be left on hardy plants, however gently remove it if it looks like it’s going to cause physical damage.