How to Prepare Your Garden Against Frost

Reader Contribution by Benedict Vanheems
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Photo by Getty Images / Grahamphoto23

Preparing the garden for the colder months ahead helps keep overwintering plants and your soil in prime condition.

Cover soil with a 1-2-inch-thick layer of organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost before it gets too cold. It will keep soil life fed while protecting the soil itself from erosion caused by winter weather.

Protect Plants

Store clean row covers rolled up somewhere dry and off the ground, ready to throw over winter salads and other vegetables when frost threatens.

Cold frames can be simply made with a wooden frame and a hinged lid made of glass or polycarbonate, or create a low tunnel using lengths of PVC water pipe. Flex them into hoops and connect them with a central ridge of water pipe at the top. Slide them onto lengths of rebar hammered into the soil for stability.

Clear plastic bottles cut in half are a good way to protect individual small plants, either outdoors or as additional insulation within a greenhouse or hoop house.

Root Crops

In milder regions, root crops such as carrots and beets can be left in the ground until they’re needed. A frost can actually improve the flavor of some crops, such as parsnips.

Add a six-inch thick mulch of compost, straw, dried leaves or leaf mold to help keep frosts at bay. If the ground will freeze solid for an extended period of time, dig up your root crops beforehand and store them in a dry, cool but frost-free place.

Protect Containers

In winter the biggest enemy of crops in containers is wet potting soil. Lift pots up off the ground using pot feet or small rocks to improve drainage.

Some containers can crack when potting soil freezes and expands. Help protect them by wrapping pots up in bubble plastic or burlap, and move them to a sheltered spot, such as next to a South-facing house wall or inside a greenhouse.

Insulating Your Greenhouse 

Heating an entire greenhouse gets expensive. If you must heat it, section off an area of and heat this smaller space instead.

Wrap frost-sensitive plants in row cover fabric. Use old polystyrene fish boxes to insulate smaller plants like winter salad leaves against the cold. Most have drainage holes, so you can fill the boxes with potting soil and plant into it, or simply place trays and pots into the boxes. Cover with fabric or plastic overnight for extra insulation.

Know Your First Frost Date   

Know when to expect your first frost so you can more effectively plan your frost protection. Our Garden Planner uses your location to anticipate the date when this is likely to occur. Keep an eye on the weather forecast too.

Get More Tips with These Great Gardening Resources

Our popular Vegetable Garden Planner can help you map out your garden design, space crops, know when to plant which crops in your exact location, and much more.

Need crop-specific growing information? Browse our Crops at a Glance Guide for advice on planting and caring for dozens of garden crops.

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