Winter snow and tender plants

by Adam Pasco

With snow falling, I knew it was cold this morning when I went out to take the kids to school ... and couldn't get the car doors open. They were frozen stuck.

Garden in snowSnow has arrived early in my part of the East Midlands, and in many other areas too. The BBC radio weather forecast this morning summed it up nicely: plunging temperatures, record-breaking conditions, no sign of it letting-up all week.

And what was that I heard about parts of the UK being among the coldest places on the planet? It’s all the fault of that brisk north-easterly, bringing with it cold winds, freezing temperatures, and snow!

With snow falling, I knew it was cold this morning when I went out to take the kids to school … and couldn’t get the car doors open. They were frozen stuck. Oh well, at least it won’t be me that gets a detention for being late.

It is still only November (well, just) but I can’t remember conditions like this so early in winter before. I’m sure my friendly BBC weather forecaster will provide me with plenty more weather statistics when I next tune in.

So, what does this mean for our plants and gardens? Firstly, take very great care walking out into your garden, as paths and steps will be covered with ice and very slippery. Don’t go out unless you really need to, and only then when wrapped-up warm and wearing boots with the best grip possible.

Bird baths will be frozen solid, so if you can melt the ice and replenish with fresh water - do try to do this when topping up feeders.

Any tender plants still left outside will, or should I say won’t be alive now! Even those brought under cover and into an unheated greenhouse will probably have been frosted. That doesn’t mean they’re dead, but just that their tops will have been knocked back. Hopefully roots in fairly dry compost, and insulated from cold, will survive and start growing next spring when conditions warm-up.

My colleague Lucy on Gardeners' World magazine looked very fed-up last Friday after finding a promising crop of pak-choi in her greenhouse was flattened by frost. How disappointing. Sometimes a few layers of fleece thrown over pots and crops in the greenhouse is enough to keep off a few degrees of frost, but of no consolation to Lucy now the damage is done. Checking the max-min thermometer, the temperature in my own greenhouse fell to -4°C.

But look on the bright side! Deep and penetrating frost is just what you need on newly dug beds. Frost should kill overwintering pests, and also helps break down clay soils.

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Talkback: Winter snow and tender plants
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Gardeners' World Web User 29/11/2010 at 17:29

Even though we have no snow here yet in south London the frost has got my nictonias,rudbeckias & alot of other stuff which i grew this year from seed. is my dahlia alright to be left in the ground or should i lift it? what about gladolis?

Gardeners' World Web User 29/11/2010 at 19:11

The first night of the big freeze in Bristol I was woken up by the cold. When it dawned on me why I was awake at 4.30 I sprang out of bed and dashed to the conservatory to put on the heater which is a thermostatically controlled greenhouse heater and usually is not needed till after Xmas. Only then did I put on my fleecy dressing gown and snuggle up in it back in bed. My conservatory is packed with tender plants so I was able to go back to sleep happy I had saved them.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/11/2010 at 02:11

the ground has frozen solid! i have been trying to do some weeding round the onions but it is no good, and as for using the hoe its just not working t(the ground is like concrete). i think i will have to leave it till the weather warms up.

Gardeners' World Web User 30/11/2010 at 12:09

Yep i agree with the last comment made here !!

Gardeners' World Web User 30/11/2010 at 18:02

clematis, I left my dahlias in the ground last winter, it got down to -8c and they came up again the following summer. I cut them right back, cover them with a polythene bin liner and mulch with old compost. I understand that it's the wet that can kill them (rotting tubers). I can't guarantee it will work every winter though, especially this one!

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