Autumn can be the cruellest of seasons, lulling us into thinking it is still summer, with rays of mellow sunshine followed by a blast of the East wind, to remind us that winter is not far away! When the sun is shining it is tempting to leave the garden undisturbed and enjoy every moment, but plans need to be in place for the frosts which will certainly be coming at some point.
Although many plants are still looking remarkably good for the time of year, there are a growing number which have already fallen victim to the dropping temperature and shortening days. The leaves are changing colour on the trees too, and they are beginning to fall, especially if there is any degree of wind.
So, it is best to be prepared for the first frosts, to ensure that you are not taken unaware when it happens. Really precious, tender plants should be in the greenhouse already, although there is no need for additional heat until the night time temperatures fall further.
There is an excellent RHS app which can be downloaded free onto your phone or tablet, called ‘Grow Your Own’. It has a ‘Frost Alert’ which can be customised to your postcode, and will warn you of an impending frost, giving precious time to take further precautions.
Many garden plants are totally hardy, and can cheerfully cope with any amount of winter weather, whilst borderline hardy plants can be brought into a frost free greenhouse, conservatory or garage to overwinter. Failing that, they can be given a degree of protection outside, using horticultural fleece, or a mulch. Fleece sleeves, which slip over plants, are a quick and easy way to protect vulnerable plants. Fleece allows air to circulate whilst plastic would cause the plant to rot, due to moisture trapped inside. A mulch of compost or straw for example, can be used to protect the roots of frost tender plants.
Certain plants, such as tree ferns, have specific requirements and they need to have their crowns protected, by stuffing the base of the fronds with straw. Some succulents, such as certain agaves, can cope with reasonably low temperatures, but need to be kept dry to prevent root rot.
Dahlias and cannas can be left in the ground until the first frost, when their foliage will be blackened. They should then be dug up, and excess soil removed from around the tubers. These can then be stored in a dry frost free place until they can be brought into growth again next spring.
There are inevitably some sacrificial plants, usually annuals, as it is not always practical or possible to ‘save’ everything from the rigours of the winter, and, indeed, there are many plants which are better grown afresh every season.
It is possible to get the majority of tender plants safely through the winter, but this depends on a little planning and preparation.
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