Warding off the worst of winter from the garden

01:00 Mon 15th Jan 2001 |

By Tom Gard

THE weather is doing its level best to test gardeners up and down the country to the limit.

After what seemed like months of continuous rain and mud the icy fingers of real winter suddenly took hold just as we took our eyes off the ball and started to wind down for the festive break.

It's been something of a double-whammy for many of our garden plants, after the drenching they have had to endure and the mild temperatures that have sent many of their biological clocks into a spin. So what can we do to make sure they make it through to Spring

Most plants classified as hardy in this country are just that and will take surprisingly low temperatures, but the current excessive moisture around the roots can weaken them and lower resilience to freezing temperatures.

There is very little we can do about the soaking our gardens have endured, but we can at least intervene to give our trees and shrubs a fighting chance against the frost and biting, drying winds.�
At ground level, a blanket of insulation will help prevent hard frost from freezing the soil solid, which will prevent the roots from supplying water to the rest of the plant.

Such insulation�doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive. A thickish layer of dry straw, bracken or even newspaper will do the job.�But, make sure you lay it when the ground is not frozen, otherwise the opposite to the desired effect is achieved and the frost is trapped in.

Plants in containers, especially in ceramic pots, freeze even more easily in their confined space. Insulate the top and sides with straw, horticultural fleece or bubble wrap and ensure pots are not sitting in trays of standing water.

Above ground, the bitter easterly winds can freeze sap in trees and shrubs and damage leaf tissue. Evergreens, especially newly-planted specimens, are particularly at risk of drying out.

Like us, they will benefit from wrapping up warm. Horticultural fleece has the advantage of being porous and translucent, allowing light and air in and enabling the plant to breathe.

As a temporary measure, polythene, bubblewrap or even an old piece of hessian will provide good insulation, trapping a layer of warmer air, but this should not be left on any longer than necessary.

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