Winter protection for plants

Information On How To Protect Outdoor Plants In Winter

Fall is the best time to get out in the garden and secure your sensitive and tender plants. Protecting plants in winter can help prevent winter scald, frozen roots, foliar damage and even death. Cold weather plant protection takes a little pre-planning and some equipment in harsher zones. In mild and temperate climates, it usually just means re-mulching and dividing peonies and other early spring bloomers. Fall maintenance should include a plan for winter protection for plants and winter plant covers.

Winter Protection for Plants

One of the easiest and most effective ways to protect sensitive plants is by mulching. Mulching with an organic material will also help enhance the soil as the mulch decomposes and releases nutrients to the earth. In autumn, pull back old mulches from the base of plants and spread a new 3-inch layer around them out to the drip line. Leave a 1/2-inch space around the plant’s stem to allow air circulation and prevent rot.

Wrap tender tree trunks with burlap or white wash them to prevent winter sunscald.

Rake a mound of soil around the base of roses to a depth of 12 to 18 inches to protect the crown.

Apply an anti-desiccant to new foliage on bushes and shrubs that will shield the foliage from wind and winter sun.

Lay a layer of 6 to 8 inches of wood chips or straw over perennial and flower beds.

Protect outdoor plants in winter with screens or frames erected on the southwest side and make sure to water before a freeze. Wet soils prevent freeze injury to roots because moist soil holds more heat than dry soil.

Keep potted plants on dollies so you can wheel them to a sheltered location or indoors when temperatures drop.

It can be beneficial to create a structure or cage around some plants. A chicken wire cage is useful as a cold barrier for trunks when filled with straw. Use twine to wrap tall shrubs, such as arborvitae. This brings the limbs in closer so they don’t splay and break if snow builds up on them. Use stakes to prop up horizontal limbs that might break if snow makes them too heavy.

How to Protect Plants from Freezing

Seasoned gardeners know their zones and are prepared with materials to protect plants from freezing. Cold weather plant protection can be as simple as a blanket. Have on hand frost barrier fabric for fruit trees in spring. A swath of burlap is also useful to cover plants in the event of a freeze. These types of winter protection for plants may be left in place for the duration of the freeze. Covers should be removed during the daytime. Covers must reach all the way to the root zone to be the most effective. Stake or tie them down but resist the urge to bind them around the plant. This can cause stem and foliar injury.

Winter Care: Caring For Plants


In winter, the sun slips lower in the sky and light levels near windows drop up to 50%. Houseplants that grow near a sunny eastern or northern window in summer may need a southern or western exposure in winter. Likewise, plants near western or southern windows that need filtered light in summer may be able to withstand direct sun in winter.

To help plants cope with changing light levels:

  • Move plants closer to windows, if possible.
  • Clean windows to allow maximum light transmission.
  • Shift plants to new locations near brighter windows for winter.
  • Wash dust off plants so leaves can make maximum use of available light.
  • Add artificial light. Fluorescent bulbs provide adequate light. They’re cheaper than traditional grow lights and produce less heat. Position bulbs 4-12 inches away from plants for effective results.


Most houseplants are tropicals and prefer temperatures between 65-75°F during the day and about 10 degrees cooler at night. For many plants, temperatures below 50°F can cause problems.

Adjust thermostats to cater to your comfort, but remember your plants need some consideration.

  • Avoid placing plants near cold drafts or heat sources.
  • Keep plants several inches away from exterior windows.
  • In cold regions, if windows frost overnight, move plants away from windows at dusk. You can also slip a heavy shade or other insulating material between plants and glass.


Homes may offer only 5-10% relative humidity in winter. Houseplants like 40-50%. Signs of low humidity stress on plants include brown leaf tips and appearance of pests like Spider Mites. Learn simple ways to improve humidity around plants.


The most common problem houseplants suffer from in winter is overwatering. About 95% of houseplants need soil to dry out almost completely before watering. How can you tell if plants need water?

  • Don’t just spot test the soil surface. Plants need water when the root zone is dry. Poke your finger into soil up to 2 inches. If the soil is dry, water.
  • Lift the pot. Soil is lighter when it’s dry. Learn how wet soil feels by lifting pots immediately after watering.
  • If you humidify winter rooms, plants won’t need water as often. Dry air means watering.
  • Exceptions to drying out between watering: Potted citrus and ferns require consistently moist soil. Always research plant moisture needs if you’re unsure.

When you do water, never allow plants to sit overnight in water that collects in the drainage saucer.


In mild climates, continue to fertilize plants through winter. In coldest climates where natural light levels are low, do not fertilize houseplants in winter. Resume fertilizing when outdoor plants wake up in spring.


Winter growth can be leggy. Pinch plants to promote branching and bushiness.


The right time to repot most houseplants is during periods of active growth – in spring and summer. The exception is potted woody plants that go completely dormant in winter. Transplant those prior to bud break in early spring.

More About Houseplants

  • The benefits of houseplants are many, including improving indoor air quality and reducing sickness.
  • Learn about houseplant insects and common houseplant diseases.
  • Looking for ideas on what houseplant to buy? For starters, you may want to learn which houseplants are toxic to people or pets. Check out five fabulous foliage plants for eye-catching indoor color.

How to Winterize Shrubs

Photo by Richard Warren

Evergreen shrubs can withstand flurries, but heavy snow and other hazards of the upcoming season can wreak havoc on these workhorse yard plantings. This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook shares these late-November prep tips to show you how to protect your shrubs in winter so they make it to spring damage-free.


Photo by Richard Warren

Shrubs that were planted less than six months ago can get dried out by strong gusts. Shield them by hammering 1x stakes into the ground to make a frame, then wrap with burlap and staple the material to the stakes.

Snow and Ice Protection

Photo by Richard Warren

Wrap tall, narrow shrubs into a tight column with twine to keep branches from collecting heavy snow or ice and breaking off.

Shelter plants up against your home from falling icicles and snow melt with a simple, reusable A-frame structure that you can make from 2x4s and exterior-grade plywood.

Salt Barrier

Photo by Richard Warren

Road deicer can dehydrate your bushes. Keep it off curbside greenery with a barrier made from 2×4 stakes and erosion-control fabric—the fine mesh won’t let salt seep through.

Frost Prevention

Photo by Richard Warren

Repeated freezing and thawing can uproot shrubs that are newly planted or establish roots slowly. Moderate the soil’s temperature by adding a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch around the base of shrubs.

Protect Shrubs from Winter Damage

Protect plants from animals using hardware cloth with a 1/4-inch mesh. Make cylinders to place around vulnerable plants, such as burning bush, blueberry, barberry, and shrub roses. Place around the shrub stem and push the lower edges of the cylinder into the ground to form a barrier.

Repellents are another option. Repeat applications are often necessary, particularly after heavy precipitation.

Learn more about combatting animal pests.

Protect Shrubs from Harsh Winter Sun

Newly planted shrubs are just as susceptible to sunscald as young trees. The chance for damage increases if they were pruned in the fall, exposing trunk tissue. Consider wrapping the trunk with a protective material, such as burlap or light-color corrugated paper. The key is to keep the bark temperature from extremes of cooling and heating. Established trees and shrubs won’t need this protective wrapping, unless they have thin bark.

Protect Shrubs from Cold Temperatures

Evergreen broad-leaved shrubs and conifers are threatened by cold temperatures that can result in desiccation or browning of foliage. When temperatures are cold and the sun warms the leaves or needles, transpiration pulls water away. If the ground is frozen, the roots can’t take up more water and the leaves dry out and turn brown (known as desiccation). Make sure the plants are well-watered in the late fall. Watering on warm days through the winter also can be helpful in warmer climates, where the ground isn’t frozen.

Protect Shrubs from Winter Burn

Arborvitae and yews are some of the most susceptible shrubs to desiccation and winter burn. Younger, smaller plants can be protected by propping pine boughs — one way to recycle your Christmas tree branches — over the plants to act as a windbreak. This also helps catch snow, which acts as insulation. Low evergreens that are covered with snow are better protected and able to withstand wintry temperatures than those left to weather the winter sun and wind.

Products known as antidesiccants are touted as protecting foliage from drying out. Research has shown mixed results with these products, but some horticulturists think they are beneficial in preventing winter damage and recommend their use.

Burlap, canvas, or other landscape fabric can serve as a wind barrier. Not only are such barriers helpful to protect against salt damage, they can lessen wind damage and sun heating. Drive wooden stakes into the ground, then staple burlap to the stakes to form a wind barrier. Make sure they are placed on the wind-facing and south sides of plants. Plants with southern exposure are at greater risk due to higher temperatures from the sun, followed by extremely cold temperatures at night. Avoid plastic wraps around plants; they can heat up to the point of cooking the plant.

Dos and Don’ts of Protecting Shrubs

Mulching is a good practice any time, but it’s particularly useful in helping plants weather winter extremes. Cover the root zone with 4–6 inches of mulch, which helps reduce fluctuation in soil temperatures and protects the roots. Avoid piling mulch directly against tree trunks and shrub stems, which increases the chances that rodents living in the mulch will feed on the shrub bark. Maintain roughly a 1-foot area around the base of a shrub that is free of mulch.

Learn more about selecting and using mulch.

It can be tempting to prune any foliage or branches that have turned brown during the winter, but it’s best to wait until new growth starts in the spring to more accurately determine damage. Though branches might look dead, they might bounce back.

If ice accumulates on shrubs, consider propping up branches to prevent breakage. Avoid beating the ice off trees or shrubs, which can cause limbs to break.

Of course, one of the best ways to increase your shrubs’ chances of surviving a cold winter is to select plants that are suited to your climate. When selecting shrubs, trees, and other plants, check your hardiness zone and other required growing conditions to get the best possible plant for your location.

Browse shrubs with winter interest.

More Shrub Care Must-Knows

  • By Leah Chester-Davis

How do I protect my trees and shrubs from winter damage?

Last winter was remarkably tough on many landscape plants. Rhododendrons were especially hard hit, as well as numerous other evergreen and deciduous trees and shrubs. While it is impossible to entirely prevent plant injury from severe winter weather conditions, there are a number of practices gardeners can employ to help keep their trees and shrubs healthy.

Fall Watering

Proper care during the growing season and right up through the fall is a crucial part of keeping evergreens alive through the winter. Providing adequate water is essential to keep plants from suffering from stress, as healthy plants are much better prepared to survive the winter. For optimum growth, most woody plants require one inch of rainfall or supplemental irrigation every week. In the fall, when the air temperature drops below that of the soil, shoot growth ceases and roots continue to develop until the soil dips below 40℉. In order to encourage maximum root development, and by extension improve winter hardiness, water thoroughly and consistently, applying enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of eight to ten inches at least once a week, continuing until freezing temperatures arrive.

Wrapping with Burlap and Making Windbreaks

Broadleaf evergreens, such as Rhododendrons, are particularly susceptible to drying out in the winter months. Even in cold weather, leaves and needles lose water in a process called transpiration. Water loss is greatest during periods of strong winds and mild sunny weather. In super cold temperatures, the ground freezes and cuts off the water supply to the plant’s roots. When water is transpired faster than it is taken up, the leaves begin to desiccate and turn brown.

Desiccation can be mitigated by erecting windbreaks made from burlap or canvas attached to frames around the plants. These barriers should be placed on the side of the prevailing winds. Some plants such as arborvitae have growth habits which lend themselves to a complete wrapping of burlap. If wrapping plants, never use black plastic as it causes extreme temperature fluctuations. Wrapping with burlap and building windbreaks isn’t always enough to prevent winter injury, but it can help. If nothing else, plants wrapped with burlap are less likely to be browsed by deer.


Gardeners frequently ask whether anti-dessicant sprays should be used to protect evergreens from winter damage. There is evidence that anti-dessicants can be helpful when applied correctly but they can be ineffective or even damaging when used inappropriately. For best results, make sure to read and follow all instructions on the product label. Most anti-desiccants are best applied when temperatures are around 40-50 degrees. Within this temperature range, the spray should have good coverage on the foliage. Because plants lose water through both the upper and lower surfaces of their leaves, all parts of the plant should be sprayed. Make sure not to apply too early. Spraying anti-dessicants before plants are dormant increases potential for damage, because the spray can trap excess water in leaves, which can freeze and cause cells to rupture. Wait to apply until evergreens are fully dormant in the late fall.

Mulching to Protect Roots

Perhaps surprisingly, snowy winters are often best for tree and shrub survival. Snow cover insulates the soil and helps prevent it from reaching a killing temperature, and it limits freezing and thawing. Thus, woody plants are more likely to suffer cold damage in winters where there is very little snow to protect their root systems. Since there is no guarantee of adequate snow cover, mulching trees and shrubs (especially those that have been newly planted) becomes very important. Aim to apply at least two inches of woodchips or straw over the root zone, taking care not to pile mulch against trunks. Extra mulch can be removed in the spring once the ground begins to thaw. When available, cut evergreen boughs can also provide good insulation.

Preventing Deer Damage

Throughout much of New Hampshire, white-tailed deer have become a major garden and landscape pest. When food is scarce in winter months, deer will heavily browse on some evergreen plants, including arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis) and yew (Taxus sp.). Installing fencing around plants susceptible to deer is the most effective method of protection, but it can be quite expensive and impractical in some landscapes. Many repellants are also available on the market with mixed degrees of effectiveness. In general, repellents that trigger a fear response are most effective. These products generally contain putrescent egg solids, predator urine or slaughterhouse wastes, and they may not be appropriate for use near heavily-trafficked walkways or buildings. Alternatively, you can place area repellents near affected plants, such as bar soap or garlic “sticks.” These repellents are usually clipped or hung from the branches of trees and shrubs that deer enjoy. If deer are only an occasional issue in your garden, you may find that they provide enough protection. Even in the best of circumstances, repellents will never completely eliminate deer damage, but they can help reduce it. For best results, make sure to apply repellents according to the product label.

Note that all deer-proofing methods work best when they are employed early in the season. Start applying repellents in the mid-to-late fall to discourage deer from making regular visits to your landscape.

Plant Selection and Planting Location

Even when you do everything you can to protect plants, winter damage is still a possibility. Some plants are simply better adapted to survive than others. Many winter injury issues can be solved by choosing appropriate plants, and hardiness is the first thing to consider. Trees and shrubs should be hardy enough to survive in the zone where they are planted without too much extra care. In most of New Hampshire, this means selecting plants which are hardy in Zones 3-5.

Another thing to keep in mind is planting trees and shrubs in the proper place in the landscape. Winter winds and sun can be extremely damaging to evergreens so they should be planted in protected spots out of the prevailing winds. Broadleaf evergreens in particular should be planted on the north, northeast, or eastern sides of buildings, or behind barriers where they are protected from the elements.

Broadleaf trees that have thin bark, like maples and cherries, are susceptible to frost cracking. This type of injury occurs on the southwest side of trees on sunny days in the winter when the sun warms the bark enough for the sap to flow. When the temperature drops quickly, the bark contracts and splits vertically. Sunscald can also occur when the temperature drops suddenly. Cells that have become active on the sunny side of plants are killed, resulting in dead, sunken areas. If planting a tree with thin bark, try to place it in a location where it will receive some protection from winter sun instead of in the open landscape. Even consider placing smaller shrubs near the base that will shade the south side of the tree and reduce the likelihood of frost cracking.

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The Ideal solution: Simply overwinter your valuable potted plants outside!

The tent is quickly assembled in the garden, on the balcony or the porch.

The generous interior space offers lot of room for big and small plants while the excellent insulation of walls and ground element means maximum protection from adverse weather conditions and frost.

Inside this Overwintering tent your plants enjoy natural light all year round. Due to its robust construction, the plant tent even manages to withstand strong winds.

This winter-tent makes taking care of plants during the colder months an entirely pleasurable activity: The UV resistant special PVC foil is light-transmissive. When opening the vent hole, you can easily provide the necessary air supply. Thanks to two entrances watering the plants is done in no time as well.

No more hassle moving plants from your garden, porch or balcony indoors, and the plants do neither suffer from being relocated nor from changed lighting and air conditions. You can open the zipper and remove the ground element entirely. So you can use this Winter-tent for the early growth of vegetables and salad, for example, tomatoes in spring.

The airspace and excellent insulation produce an ideal climate for the cultivation of plants. Perfect for garden friends who do not own a greenhouse yet.

Comes with a handy bag.

It is very robust and can be used again and again for many seasons.

This winter-tent is a well-thought-out product and ready to use within half an hour.
-Two entrances
-Practical zippers
-Secure fixing
-Venting window
-Robust linkage
-Including carrying – case
-Heavy Duty
-Removable and isolated ground element
-UV-resistant PVC-Foil
-Light – transmissive

150 cm x 200 cm diameter

Extension available to increase height by a further 1m at £120

How To Cover Plants for Winter

Richard Bailey/Getty Images

As winter sets in across the South, take precautionary measures to safeguard plants from freezing temperatures. Plants are damaged when ice forms in their cells, causing tissues to die and their leaves to turn brown, shriveled, and mushy. One of the best ways to preserve your garden beds is to select hardy plants that can survive cold weather in your zone. Don’t let all the hard work you put into landscaping go to waste when winter frost hits and protect cold-sensitive plants from artic air.

Before planting, figure out which spots in your garden will be warmest and coldest, and plant hardy and tender plants accordingly. You can also prep your plants throughout the year by fertilizing them appropriately, as healthy plants will be in better shape for tolerating colder temperatures.

Protect containers by moving them to a covered area or indoors before frost sets in. If they aren’t able to be moved, cover the entire container with plastic or burlap (wrapping the base helps reduce heat loss).

For garden beds filled with sensitive plants, start preparing them in autumn by mulching with organic material. You can also put down a layer of mulch (like pine straw or ground bark) over perennials or bulbs that aren’t hardy in your zone. If it hasn’t rained before a frost, water the beds a day before extreme cold hits; wet soil holds in more heat, so roots will be more insulated and less likely to be harmed by a freeze. Garden beds can also be shielded with row covers, bed sheets, or blankets, but remove them when temperatures begin to rise the next day.

WATCH: 16 Herbs You Can Grow Indoors All Year Long

For cool-weather veggies such as broccoli, greens, and cabbage, place a layer of floating row cover over them to protect against freezing temps and prevent foliage burn or splitting. (Row covers can protect plants from temperatures as low as 28 degrees.) Secure the row covers to the crowd with bricks. To defend your crops against the cold even better, add a double layer. Cloches can also be used to shield plants, or cover them in a blanket of pine straw for the night.

Plants such as azaleas, boxwoods, camellias, and hollies also need extra protection during the winter. Add a layer of mulch (pine bark or pine straw) around the base of these shrubs after the first frost.

Winter blankets are not just for your bed. Tender plants need cover from cold weather. Use plant blankets to protect, but not suffocate, vulnerable plants that are too big to put under a cloche, or too well-rooted to move to a cold frame or indoors.

Lest you think a plastic tarp will do, consider that plant blankets provide insulation, preventing frost damage or worse, and are also breathable, letting in light and moisture essential for plant health. Use them in conjunction with a simple frame to provide shelter from wind and protection from the weight of snow that might otherwise break branches. Fabrics also can used to wrap the trunks of saplings to prevent frost damage.

Above: Made of UV-stabilized spun polypropylene, a 100-foot roll of Floating Row Cover is $47.50 from Amazon.

Above: Made of sheep’s wool, a 2-by-1-meter Frost Protection Fleece “protects seedlings and young plants from wind, cooler weather and nocturnal frost,” says Manufactum; €8.50.

Above: Burlap is a great all-natural winter plant protector, and, perhaps, one of the most aesthetically pleasing options. A 100-foot-long roll of 12″ Burlap suitable for wrapping tree trunks is $62 from Uline.

Above: A 2 by 1 meter roll of Coconut Fibre Mat can be cut to size to wrap around outdoor planters and pots; €28.50 from Manufactum.

Above: A 5-foot roll of 40″ Burlap is $6.95 from Burlap Fabric.

Above: An 80-by-80-inch blanket of Natural Burlap Landscape Fabric is $7.98 from Home Depot.

Above: Measuring 3 by 12 feet, a roll of Natural Burlap is $43.10 from Jet.

Above: A set of three Plant Covers For Frost Protection made of polypropylene fleece is £24.67 from eBay UK.

Above: Made of 100 percent natural fabric, a Burlap Blanket measuring 3 by 24 feet is a protective wrap for shrubs and will work as a windscreen; $9.98 from Lowe’s.

Above: A Coconut Fibre Plant Protection Mat is made of woven coir fiber and can be cut to size; for more information and pricing, see Windhager.

Plant Covers & Frost Blankets

We stock both medium- and heavy-weight options perfect for your sensitive ornamentals, perennials, nursery stock, vegetable crops, and more. The medium model provides 6-8 degrees of freeze protection and 50% light transmission, while the heavier blanket provides up to 10 degrees of freeze protection and 40% light transmission. No matter the climate, these frost blankets are an essential tool for keeping your plant investments healthy and safe.

Another plant cover option for protecting your plants is our germination and insect blankets. These rolls provide a great environment for germination and growth while also controlling insects, reducing soil erosion, and many other benefits. Our customers love this product for its versatility, durability, and protection from flea beetles and other pests.

When it comes to protecting your crops and finding covers for garden plants, don’t settle for anything but the best. A.M. Leonard has long offered professional landscapers and gardeners superior products and competitive prices’trust us to be the first and last stop for all your plant covers and plant protection needs.

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