Winter plant protection

Credit: flickr / eleda 1

Q: Is there a time when you can mist your plants before the frost hits to stop them from freezing?

You are quite right in thinking that a coating of water will protect plants from frost damage. I’ve seen this done when deciduous plants, such as Japanese maples, have their new, tender leaves and the weather is predicted to drop suddenly to temperatures below average. Years ago I worked at a wholesale nursery and we expected unseasonably cold temperatures. We turned on the overhead irrigation to coat the leaves, and then drained the pipes to keep them from bursting with the cold. No wonder I still remember – it was a big production.

Also, you’ve probably seen this process done on TV in Florida for the lemon and orange trees. They are evergreen trees, so very low temperatures will damage their leaves. The trees are often watered before a frost to protect the foliage. But this technique has never been used in any gardens where I have worked, only in commercial nurseries. (I can’t really think of a time when you would do it in your home garden.)

Important: Misting plants to ward off freezing only works if water is continuously added; it’s a short term solution best for short cold snaps.

More important for most home gardeners is to make sure their plants are well watered if there is a dry fall. If the ground is very dry in the fall, the cold air can penetrate into the air pockets in the soil and kill the plants’ roots. If the ground is watered in fall, the water insulates the roots. I don’t know where you live, but if long, dry autumns are common, don’t stop watering until it freezes. Once every few weeks would be plenty — just to be sure the ground has some moisture before it freezes up.