The clocks have gone back, the nights are drawing in, and the first mention of Christmas is upon us. With the approach of winter comes the promise of the first frost, which could happen any time now, if it hasn’t already. If you haven’t already, it is definitely time to do what you can to protect your garden from the first frost. Here’s how.
It may seem logical that waterlogged ground is more likely to freeze, but actually, wet soil takes longer to chill than dry soil. To stop your soil from being too badly affected by icy temperatures, make sure that your garden is well watered. Add a thin layer of organic matter, like compost or manure to keep the heat in and the useful worms, bugs and fungi warm. There is a fine balance to mulching: too much insulation could promote the growth of pests. Generally, 1-2 inches is enough to keep the soil happy and healthy, while allowing the odd hard frost to control the pests.
Before temperatures drop in earnest, make sure that you harvest your most vulnerable crops such as herbs, tomatoes and squash, as well as potted plants. No matter how hardy a potted plant may be, the depleted soil volume means that it won’t be able to stay warm during a frost, putting the plant at risk. So bring potted plants in and place them somewhere where they will get plenty of sunshine, such as a conservatory or a greenhouse that is easier to keep relatively warm. If you are not sure how hardy a plant is, a quick internet search will help. Some crops, such as brassicas and root vegetables thrive in the lower temperatures.
Both in the greenhouse if you are lucky enough to have one, and in the garden, it helps to give your more vulnerable plants a little layer of protection. Row covers, bedding sheets or wool cloths will protect plants from too much damage.
Protecting your garden from frost really is that simple. However, the complicated bit isn’t getting plants out of the cold, or covering them up; it is in getting the timing right. A skilled gardener will be able to tell from a combination of weather forecasts, previous experience and that sixth sense that professional gardeners seem to have. For “normal” people it’s best to keep an eye on the weather and hope for the best. Generally, it could be any time from the beginning of November, so get your mulch at the ready!
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