Most gardeners want their plants and flowers to last despite unpredictable frosts that can kill or damage them. After finding the right plant colors and varieties, after seeding, potting, fertilizing, watering, and pruning, it can be frustrating to have a late spring or early fall frost kill them off and have to start over.
“You never know when a frost will hit,” says Steve Goto, a southern California-based expert nurseryman and lecturer known as the Tomato King, who conducted 80 seminars throughout western states last year. “Average frost dates are based on history, but cannot accurately predict the future.”
For gardeners trying to protect plants from frost the traditional way, there are challenges. It is hard to move heavy potted plants, containers, or hanging baskets indoors or to protected spots, particularly with a late night frost warning. Some gardeners attempt to move their plants out during the day to get needed UV sunlight, then back indoors at night to keep them warm. Yet this is difficult for those who are busy or forget; and when plants are repeatedly moved, they are likely to damage buds, blooms, branches, or trailing stems.
To protect plants from frost, home gardeners have traditionally tried to create makeshift covers from sheets, blankets, towels, or plastic, but these can actually harm plants, even when not blown off by wind. Instead, experts are suggesting some easy new alternatives that are much more effective.
“Once sheets, blankets, or towels absorb moisture, they become heavy, can crush the plant, and take a long time to dry out,” says Goto. “They offer no thermal protection from frost when wet with rain or dew, nor does plastic. They can block air circulation, making frost crystals more likely to form on the plant. Since they block needed sunlight, gardeners have to remove them during the day to allow UV exposure then replace them at night, but few are willing to do so for long.”
For effective plant frost protection during the growing season with minimal effort, Goto and a growing number of gardening experts are recommending an innovative type of frost cover called Frost Protek. Made from spun polypropylene, the same fabric used by commercial growers for plant protection, the frost cover insulates better than sheets, blankets, towels, or plastic, and can protect plants to 26 degrees.
Unlike sheets, blankets, and towels, the lightweight fabric frost cover is “breathable” and weighs less than 1 oz. per square yard, so it will not crush delicate plants, foilage, or blossoms when wet and quickly dries out. Since the frost cover allows in enough air and UV rays to keep plants healthy, it can be left on for days or weeks. In bad weather, plants can simply be left covered in place rather than repeatedly covered and uncovered or moved.
“I’ve found the Frost Protek plant cover insulates much better than sheets, blankets, towels, or plastic,” says Goto, who has used it on a range of vegetables, herbs, soft tissue annuals, and tropical varieties, and frequently uses it for frost protection when he travels. “The cover keeps frost crystals off the foilage, but does not physically lay on the plant the way sheets, blankets and towels do.”
“Once I put the frost cover on, I don’t have to take it off since it lets in enough light and air to keep the plant healthy,” adds Goto. “To grow tomatoes in a cool season tomato program, I kept the cover on for 90 days without taking it off, with excellent tomato production.”
The fabric frost cover, which was originally developed by an avid gardener for her own plants, comes in various sizes and shapes designed to protect plants including those in pots, containers, hanging baskets, vegetable rows, window boxes, trellises, grow boxes, and even trees up to 6 feet tall.
Unlike improvised sheet and blanket frost covers that are often weighted down with rocks or bricks to prevent wind from blowing them off plants, the fabric frost cover uses drawstring closures to stay in place. This holds in warmth around the plant, and enables one to put the cover on and take it off in seconds, even for hanging baskets.
“I find a hanging plant frost cover with drawstrings a necessity when I climb a ladder to hang a geranium basket,” says Goto. “Straps hold the cover in place so I have both hands free to tuck in the plant and close the drawstrings. This makes it safe and easy to cover the plant in about 30 to 60 seconds.”
Yamagami’s Nursery, a Cupertino, California-based garden center, uses frost protection covers primarily to prevent damage to seedlings, subtropical flowering plants, and dwarf citrus trees in containers, according to Carolyn Villa-Scott, the nursery’s advertising manager.
“If you drape sheets, blankets, or towels directly on the plants in a frost, they will ‘freeze weld’ to the plant, damaging it,” says Villa-Scott. “It can be hard to secure these from blowing off, and lightweight plastic frost covers are often ripped when being staked down, compromising their effectiveness and longevity.”
“We’ve found that we can put the Frost Protek covers directly on plants and they won’t freeze weld,” says Villa-Scott. “We protect potted plants, containers, and hanging baskets from frost so they don’t have to be moved or repeatedly covered and uncovered. With the covers’ drawstring closure, it’s easy to cover an entire container, including the plant’s roots, which makes for better frost protection.”
According to Villa-Scott, one size of frost cover fits neatly over a half-barrel container, which many customers use. She finds a large bag type cover particularly effective for protecting dwarf citrus trees in containers, and a row cover useful for protecting seedlings. She says the frost covers are much stronger than traditional covers, and capable of lasting several seasons.
Villa-Scott, who uses the frost covers at home as well, credits them for saving her back porch plants from a three-day frost. “Once when I left on a trip, a three-night frost hit,” she says. “If I hadn’t covered them, all the plants on my back porch including tender evergreen perennials could have died. Instead, when I returned home, they were fine with no frost damage.”
Frost Protek Plant Covers have been awarded the National Home Gardening Club “member tested and recommended seal of approval,” earning a 98 percent approval rating when tested by several hundred members across the U.S. and Canada. The National Home Gardening Club is America’s largest club of gardening enthusiasts with over 675,000 members.
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