How to Keep Outdoor Plants From Freezing


Frost damage to plants happens at the leaf level and at the root level. When plants have foliage during a cold spell, the water-filled cells freeze and, when they later thaw, the cells burst, damaging the plant. At the root level, prolonged periods of cold freeze the soil around the root system making the plant unable to absorb water. Cut off from access to water, the plant withers and will eventually die. During periods of severe cold, protective measures are crucial to keep outdoor plants from freezing.

Things You'll Need

  • Mulch
  • Fleece
  • Water the soil around trees and shrubs before a hard frost. The moist soil around the roots will strengthen the plant and keep the temperature of the soil more consistent. Water plants to a depth of 12 inches for large shrubs and trees.

  • Spread a 10- to 12-inch layer of mulch around the base of deciduous shrubs and trees. Use straw, rotted leaves or well seasoned manure. The mulch layer insulates the soil slowing the freezing process of the ground around the roots.

  • Cover perennial root systems with a 6- to 8-inch layer of mulch such as straw, manure or rotted leaves. Most perennials die back to the ground in winter. Cut off all dead stalks and foliage before covering the area with mulch.

  • Wrap shrubs, dwarf trees and trees trained on a trellis or against a wall with fleece material to prevent plants from freezing. Wrap the material loosely over the canopy of the shrub or tree. This protects the leaves from freezing and bursting.

Tips & Warnings

  • Plant fruit trees like apples, peaches and plums on level or slightly raised ground. Low ground collects late spring frosts that damage tender blossoms.
  • Avoid pruning frost-damaged plants until spring when the first flush of new growth emerges.

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  • Photo Credit winter in garden image by Zbigniew Nowak from
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