Creative Ways to Protect Your Plants From Frost
As we head into spring planting this season, it’s important to protect your new seedlings from any lingering frost or cold snaps. For this reason, some folks will keep their new sprouts indoors until it’s definitely warmer.
Others either lack indoor space or are eager to get their gardens started. In this post I’ll look at four ways you can plan ahead with your garden design to protect your baby sprouts from any cold weather you may still experience before spring fully returns.
And just as a quick note: for plants in containers (such as those featured in the above image), cold snaps can actually be more damaging than for those plants already in the ground, so be sure to bring them inside during inclement weather.
To start off, I’ll look at two cheaper options you might try out. First…
Apply Extra Mulch to Your Rows
This is the most straight forward option. If you have any connections to lumber farms or landscaping businesses, you may be able to acquire bunches of mulch for cheap or even entirely for free. If not, gardening supply stores will usually carry a few kinds of mulch in their soil selection.
Mulch provides added insulation to keep the soil beneath it warmer. This is a great option if you already have growth coming out of the ground. If you’re still dealing with seeds, it may inadvertently delay their growth by blocking light or providing a course layer for the new sprout to push back on once out of the seed shell, so use wisely.
Bed Sheets & Fabric
Another cheap and easy option is to use bed sheets or spare bits of fabric to cover your rows. This is a great option particularly for short-term or overnight cold snaps. Just place the sheet directly over the entire row and then weight or tie it down with something. Some folks will use burlap instead of cotton and cover only the roots or base of the plant, but really whatever material you have available at home can be re-purposed here.
Also, as needed, regardless of the fabric you cover it with, you can always lash together a quick tripod using sturdy sticks and twine to create a shelter frame to set over small shrubs.
Hoop Houses & Cold Frames
Depending on the time and resources you can allocate to your weather prep, you may find it more efficient and aesthetic to create more lasting structural changes to your garden beds. If this is an option for you, you may consider either hoop house structures like those I built for my space, or smaller cold frames built around different garden sections (or to house small amounts of potted plants outdoors).
The keys here are sunlight and tightly secured edges in order to keep the heat in.
You can read my instructions for building a hoop house here (cost ~$130). With regards to the cold frames, again, be mindful of how serious the upcoming cold snap will be. Potted plants are more susceptible to cold weather than plants in the ground, and your cold frame will need to be placed where it can remain warm enough to truly protect your sprouts.
As a last suggestion, depending on space and money, you may consider investing in a micro-greenhouse, which can either be temperature controlled or not depending on what you want to build.
One of the first farms I did work on used climate controlled greenhouses to prep sprouts for planting. And in my own homestead, I’ve assembled a non-climate controlled one out of plastic sheeting and an old plastic shelving unit which I’ll use not for protecting from cold snaps but as a transition stage between indoor sprouting and planting to help harden off my new sprouts.
Unless you’re going with a heated unit, I’d say this strategy is more appropriate for hardening off than protecting sprouts from immediate cold snaps. After all, if you can still move your sprouts out of the garden, you could just keep them inside rather than outside in a micro-greenhouse.
Whichever strategy or strategies you go with, always aim to cover your plants and to secure all potted plants indoors before dusk. Keep an eye on your plants to see how they handle everything. And keep an open mind for switching up your strategy if need be.
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Pat Mosley (NC LMBT #16882) is a licensed massage and bodywork therapist in the Winston-Salem area. His work is rooted in compassionate touch, permaculture, and deep ecology with the resilience of all Earth's children in mind. Connect with him via email to firstname.lastname@example.org