Plant Winter Protection

Will this year be 'The Year'; the infrequent but dreaded arctic winter when our gardens will be devastated by weeks of sub-zero temperatures?  Is there anything we can do to keep our botanical babies safe?  Thank Heavens the answer is a resounding ‘YES’ and for those readers for whom that feeling of paranoia is new and unnerving, here are a few pointers to ease the unease.

Facts and figures

Most importantly, get to know the weather where you live.  The Met. Office has its spies in most areas and the information is freely, if not easily, available to personal callers at their library in Bracknell.  Unless you have a realistic idea of how cold your locality is likely to get, you are always going to be heading into winter blindfolded with fingers crossed.

Also get to know the plants and their lower temperature tolerances.  Often these are well documented, either from having been grown in this country or abroad; sometimes it isn’t but a little research pays dividends.  Although occasionally it is fun just to try.

Winter Protection

The big ‘however’ is that we don’t necessarily only want to grow plants that will survive our coldest winters; in fact half the fun of exotic gardening is trying to grow lots of plants that we know aren’t totally hardy but, using our skill and guile, can be nursed through the forbidding freezes.

Winter Protection methods can be largely boiled down to 4 main methods:

  • Insulation
  • Covering
  • Mulching
  • Moving

1. Insulation

There are many materials that can be used to insulate your plants against the cold but they MUST allow air to circulate and moisture to evaporate.  The material can be a temporary covering during cold spells or left in place throughout the winter but either way should be porous.  One convenient material is horticultural Fleece Jackets, that you can find in our online shop.

Keep a large roll of it in the shed; it is inexpensive, light, easy and may just save a treasured plant as a double layer will give around two degrees of frost protection, plus stop physical freezing damage by taking the brunt of the surface ice formation.  Other suitable materials include hessian, loft insulation, straw, old blankets etc.  Bubble wrap is often advocated as a useful material for protecting your plants but you risk ending up with a well-protected and warm heap of mush.

2. Covering

This has been largely covered under the section ‘Hardiness’

3. Mulching

This applies largely to plants such as cannas, gingers, some ferns and herbaceous perennials that are planted in the ground and remain in situ year round.  A deep layer of mulch will help to insulate the crowns of these plants against frost penetration.  Gather the leaves together and add a mound of shredded/chipped bark, composted green waste or compost anything up to 15cm deep.  This can be left to gradually incorporate into the soil due to weathering and worm action or, come spring, spread further around the plant.

Larger plants such as tree ferns, palms and hardy bananas will all benefit from having a deep layer of mulch spread around their stems.

4. Moving

For potted plants this is perhaps the simplest and most failsafe method of protection – move the whole plant to a frost free location with under glass, in the conservatory, house or shed, depending upon the individual needs of the plant.  It is important to remember to acclimatise the plant gradually when moving back outside in spring.

Plants such as Ensete and the more tropical aroids such as colocasia and alocasia that have been bedded outside for summer can also be lifted and stored somewhere frost free for winter. 


For more detailed information about specific groups of plants, please follow these links:

Hardy Palms                 Citrus
Cycads                         Arid
Tree Ferns                    Gingers and Bananas
Ground Ferns

Winter Protection