Protect Plants and Bushes for the Upcoming Nightly Frosts

With frosty weather just around the corner, now is the time to think about protecting your plants and bushes from the cold. There are numerous tips for doing just that, but the ones you will want to use depend on the exact species of plant and the materials you have on hand. Below are some guidelines you can use to provide your plants with a home in which they can thrive.

Why is Frost Bad for Plants, Anyway?

Plants, like people and animals, are comprised of living cells encased in cell membranes. For these plants and bushes to survive, their cells must remain intact to allow for the movement of water and other nutrients through the leaves and stems. Frost is nothing more than ice crystals that form on plants. Depending on how cold it gets, the plant itself could also freeze, resulting in ice crystals both on the plant and inside the plant. These ice crystals have jagged edges that pierce through cell membranes. If frost has damaged a plant in your care, you will likely notice leaves that look shriveled and darker than usual. Eventually, the leaves will die.

Understand Your Plants’ Classifications

Plant classifications can help you determine which plants are more resilient to frost and which ones are most susceptible. If a plant is labeled as “tender,” this means it will suffer a serious injury or even die if left out in freezing temperatures. If a plant is labeled as “hardy,” it can tolerate some frost as long as it is short-lived. Because it gets incredibly cold for long periods of time during Chicago winters, it is crucial that you bring your tender plants inside to protect them before the first freeze.

Tips and Tricks for Defending Against Cold and Frost

When there are plants that you cannot bring inside for protection, there are a few steps you can take to help them survive the frosts.

  • Keep the soil watered. Wet soil is better at retaining heat than dry soil. By keeping your plants watered, you can keep the roots protected.
  • Cover vulnerable plants. The coverings don’t need to be fancy. You can use a drop cloth, a blanket, or even a sheet of plastic. Do what you can to ensure the material does not touch the foliage. By leaving space between plant and covering, you effectively trap heat, giving plants a better shot at surviving the cold.
  • Use an anti-transpirant spray. Coat the leaves to seal in existing moisture. It won’t prevent the formation of ice crystals, but it gives plants an extra boost to help them live.
  • Move plants in containers to a sheltered part of your home. Container plants will retain more heat when they are placed closer together. Bunch them up and put them in a part of your home that gets more daily sunlight and retains more heat than areas always in the shade.

Chicago’s frosts are tough on plants. The best option is to bring them inside for the winter whenever you have the option. When that is not an option, the tips above can absolutely help you keep those plants alive for much longer – and in some cases, they may even thrive.