Planning Frost and Wind Protection

How much frost and wind protection you need to plan for in your garden greatly depends on its climate and aspects and, of course, the sorts of plants you grow. The best sort of protection is not to need it in the first place – so sticking to plants that will naturally tolerate the worst that your site will throw at them obviously allows you to avoid all the bother.

However, that does cut down your options quite a bit; for very frost-prone or particularly windy gardens, almost anything you grow may be in need of some help – and even normally suitable plants can suffer in a particularly harsh winter.

Plan Your Planting

A good deal can be done to avoid frost and wind damage by planning your planting carefully. Avoid obvious trouble spots such as frost-hollows and exposed corners without shelter for plants which are likely to be susceptible to frost or wind damage. Planting tender shrubs and climbers for example, against one of the walls of the house can often add all the extra warmth and protection they need. Taking this kind of simple preventative measures can make things much easier.

Providing Frost Protection

For many plants, it is not the cold itself which does the damage, so much as the repeated freeze-thaw-freeze, so one of the most important parts of providing frost protection is to maintain the plants at a near-constant temperature. Although there are many different ways to achieve this depending on what needs protecting, it all comes down to one thing – insulation.

Shrubs and small trees for example, were traditionally wrapped in a thick layer of bracken or straw and then covered with Hessian sacking – using horticultural fleece is a good modern equivalent. Other methods include building a loose chicken-wire frame around the plant and then stuffing it with straw or dry leaves, adding a “cap” of plastic to the top to keep the insulation dry, but still allowing air to circulate around the trunk and branches.

In exposed sites, roses can be protected by heaping soil up over the crown to form a mound and protect the region of the crown and graft; alternatively, in extremely cold places, they can be dug up altogether and laid flat in a specially dug straw-lined trench until spring. A good thick layer of mulch laid over the crowns of perennial plants once they have died down for the winter – and then covered with straw or fleece – should see them stay in top condition throughout the cold.

Wind and Wind Breaks

Wind protection is really all about reducing the speed of the wind before it hits your plants and how much you need to provide is again dictated by the plants themselves. Trees and shrubs vary enormously in their wind-tolerance, with some kinds being notoriously easily damaged – Japanese maple (Acer) for instance – while others, such as hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) and holly (Ilex) being much more resistant.

For some small plants it may be possible to use the shelter provided by other larger shrubs to provide sufficient protection, or locate a single willow hurdle or even a good-sized rock to take the worst of the blast. However, for larger planting areas – or very exposed sites – the only real option is likely to be a more extensive wind-break.

There are many proprietary varieties available, but probably the best is the “Interference” fence, which is made from a series of stout planks, arranged in two rows fixed horizontally on both sides of a strong frame. The gaps on one side line up with the planks on the other – breaking up the wind as it blows through the fence and taking the force out of it.

In the end, protecting your garden from the worst of the frost and wind comes down to planning and avoiding as many of the potential problems as possible with a sensible choice of plants and places to grow them. Trying to make big changes to the growing conditions of your plot is always going to be an uphill struggle, but even the windiest and coldest of sites can grow some surprising things – with a little help when the weather turns nasty.