Protecting your plants from the cold

Did you know that plants feel the cold too? And with winter in full force it could be time to consider how the cooler weather is effecting your garden.

Typically, cooler weather impacts your plants in a range of different ways yet it is not always the cooler temperatures that cause all the problems for plants. It can also be due to the rapid variations between temperatures. This is especially relevant to Perth as we quite often experience a warmer, sunnier winter’s day before a sudden cold snap.

The most obvious side effect of winter to plants is breakage of tree and shrub limbs, as well as the effect of high winds on flowers and foliage. These high winds usually cause the death of flower buds, decreasing the chance of blooms in that season. In severe cold cases, the root can be killed, causing the plant to shrivel and die come early spring.

Pick plants suited to your climate
There is a huge inconsistency between different plant species and their tolerance to the cold. So, to plant a garden that will survive all year round, it is important to incorporate plants that are more tolerant of the cooler weather to ensure that they are kept healthy throughout the winter season.

This is the simplest choice. Start by finding out your area’s likely low and high temperatures for the year and choose what plants can withstand those temperatures. Obviously some plants become dormant in the winter, so it is important to learn which ones can withstand the changes in temperature. However, the disadvantage of this approach is your selection of plants are limited. Our pick for winter plants in Australia include Tibetan Cherry, Aspens, Oakleaf Hydrangea and Autumn Heather.

Bring pot plants indoor
Another go-to solution to protect your plants from the cold involves simply removing them from the cooler temperatures by bringing them indoors. Grab your potted plants and hanging baskets and bring them indoors. Even storing them in your garage will do as this will give them the heat and shelter they need to survive the season.

If space persists, it is more beneficial to place your plants around the interior of your home as decoration, helping them to get more heat. Ideally, keep them near windows in the east or west of your home, allowing them to receive the most sunlight possible. However, make sure you avoid keeping potted plants near vents, as this location can dry them out and cause them to die off.

Apply a layer of mulch
Applying a layer of mulch to your garden beds can act as an insulator, holding in the heat and moisture in the soil. This option is used to protect the root systems of your plants from cold temperatures however it is important to note that sometimes the cold temperature is not what is damaging the plant, but rather the freeze/thaw cycle in the soil. This is especially relevant to those residents living in the south of the state experiencing much cooler temperatures.

The layer of mulch helps to protect the root system from this freeze-thaw process, helping the plant to draw up water through the roots which is much needed by the plant. Consider using a mulch made from wheat or pine straw, as these work best and are easier to remove once the weather warms up. Keep in mind that as an insulator, these plants may also be incapable of warming up efficiently due to the soil, so be sure to rake back the soil as the weather starts to heat up come spring.

Water your plants
It is important to water the soil around your plants heavily prior to a very cold night. This will help the soil trap the heat better than when it is dry, and evaporate slowly which warms the air around the plants. It also helps retain some of the day’s heat into the night, helping the plant survive the drop in temperature.

Supply a heat source
This option is most likely for extreme temperature drops, as the climate around Perth doesn’t normally call for these measures. If you are undergoing a series of cold weather, you can help your plants out by providing them with a heat source, just be sure to use outdoor safe extension cords and materials to avoid danger.

Start by covering them with a plastic tarp or blanket, before placing the heat source inside. Possible sources include a string of Christmas lights or a 100 watt light bulb which generate just enough warmth for the plants without damaging them with too much heat. Make sure you place the heat source away slightly from the plants so they are not in direct contact and uncover the plants during the day to allow for ventilation.

All in all, there is a range of factors that can impact the survival of your plants but keep in mind that for some plant types, no amount of care will save them from the cold so it is important to consider this when planning your garden.