How To Keep Outdoor Plants Alive During Winter


I have recently gotten into gardening during the winter months and was worried about my plants dying due to the cold weather. I spent some time researching and testing a few things, and this is what I came up with.

To keep outdoor plants alive through the winter months you will need to water them thoroughly. Insulate the watered soil with mulch to retain moisture and warmth. Cover and enclose the plants as necessary to prevent frost.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to do this, and different plants are going to need different care. It’s not hard to keep your plants alive through winter if you take the right steps.

Keep Outdoor Plants Alive During Winter

Plants will usually slow their growing during cold weather, but it’s still possible to get some nice harvests. One of the main concerns with outdoor plants during the winter is ground freeze. If the ground freezes through to the plants roots, the will most likely die. Frost getting to the plants for an extended time will also result in them wilting and dying.

Water Plants To Prevent Cold Weather Damage

It may seem counter intuitive, but watering your plants before a frost will help them survive the cold weather. Plenty of water will help regulate the temperature difference between the plant roots and the soil. The water will act as an insulator. Of course, if the temperature drops low enough your plants will still freeze without a ground cover of some kind.

It’s a good idea to watch the weather. If freezing temperatures are in store for the night, water your plants thoroughly before it gets dark. The wet soil will hold in warmth a lot better than dry soil. If you leave your soil dry, ground freeze will almost certainly happen on a cold night and it will kill your plant at its roots.

Also, before winter really hits, it’s a good idea to do what is called a deep watering. This is when you water your soil until it is wet at least 6 inches deep. Do this about once a week leading up to winter. Some gardeners like to deep water every few days leading up to winter, it’s up to you, but I suggest at least once a week. This will ensure the soil around your plants is insulated well enough for the cold weather.

Apply Mulch To Prevent Frost

We noticed that adding ground cover like mulch or straw can make a huge difference in how well our plants do during winter. Mulch will insulate the soil against the cold weather and help keep moisture in the soil. A few inches of mulch can go a long way to keeping your outdoor plants alive during winter.

If you are concerned about removing the ground cover in the spring time, I suggest using pine straw or a wheat type mulch. The clean up for these is so much easier than a traditional mulch and they do the job just fine. You will want to be careful you don’t use too much mulch on some plants. Fragile plants like berries or roses do a lot better with a thinner layer.

Cover Plants To Protect Them During Winter

Watering and mulching come before covering because they are more important to plant survival. But if you want to give your plants an even better chance at surviving the winter you should cover them.

You don’t need to spend money on expensive material or spend a lot of time to cover your plants properly. Simply put some wooden or metal stakes in the ground and lay some type of fabric material over them. Some good material to use would be things like:

  • Shade Netting
  • Burlap
  • Bed Sheets
  • Table Cloth
  • Sheets Of Fabric
  • Blanket
  • Fabric Row Cover
  • Plastic Cover

What I like to do is use sheets of fabric and then cover that with some plastic sheets. The plastic helps keep more moisture and warmth in, but I don’t recommend using plastic by itself. Remember to secure the covering to the stakes and to the ground. I will usually put a few rocks on the covering at the side of the plants. This isn’t as important, but you want to make sure the coverings won’t blow away in the wind.

This video may help give you some ideas of how you can cover your plants during winter.

Another useful covering method is using chicken wire. Just bend the chicken wire over the plants creating an arch, and zip-tie the covering material to the chicken wire to secure it. This approach makes these cool little coverings that are portable and can be used on multiple plants.

We make our own coverings, but we also buy good quality row covers for certain areas. We’ve spent a lot time and money trying different row covers, and ended up sticking with this Tierra Garden Easy Fleece TunnelOpens in a new tab. on Amazon. It costs a little more than some of the other ones we’ve tried, but far better quality.

Remove Cover During The Day

In some areas winter means extremely cold nights, but then the temperature will rise during the day. You want to watch the weather report and remove the coverings on the days that will see lots of sun and warmer temps. In warmer weather, plant coverings can actually do more damage than help. In the area we are, we remove the coverings most days during the winter.

Plant In Cloches For Cold Weather

Cloches are bell shaped coverings typically made of glass or a wire mesh. The glass cloches are especially useful for smaller plants. They will allow the sunlight and warmth to get to the plant while protecting them from snow and frost.

You can make your own Cloche or find one online that will work for you. The wire mesh cloches can get pretty pricey for quality ones, but they should last a lifetime . You would just need to cover them with a fabric material of your choice. Here are our favorite Cloches.

Plant In Cold Frames

Cold frames are really easy to make yourself at home and are ideal for larger plants or covering multiple plants at once. Think of a cold frame as a mini green house, just big enough to fit over the plants you need. Usually built with some 2×4’s and a plastic covering, cold frames let sunlight in to warm the plants, while insulating from the cold winter weather.

Cold frames are also great at keeping your plants in a humid environment if you build it right. This is an excellent way to germinate seeds and get your plants to start sprouting even during cold months when most people think it’s not possible.

Not All Plants Will Last The Winter

You may want to bring some of the more vulnerable plants inside for the winter. If you don’t have a greenhouse, bringing tropical and exotic plants inside is the best bet. Even if you follow all the tips above, some plants just aren’t made to grow in cold weather.

It’s important to make sure the plants you want to survive the winter are even able to do so. We have actually started planting certain plants during autumn before winter hits because of how well they due in cold weather. Here is a nice list of Some Plants To Grow During Winter if you want to get a better idea of which types of plants will survive.

What To Do With Outdoor Potted Plants During Winter

If you have potted plants outside that you want to last through winter, there are some additional things to consider. If at all possible the plant should be in a plastic pot. We haven’t seen any luck with stone or clay pots, they just don’t stand up to the cold. Use plastic pots and bury the pot in soil if you can. The soil will help insulate the pot and the plastic pot will help protect the plants roots.

If you can’t bury the pot, or you’re using stone or clay pots, do your best to wrap the pot with a material similar to one in this list:

  • Burlap
  • Bubble Wrap
  • Thick Fabric
  • Old Blankets Or Comforters

You will want to wrap a fair amount of material around the pots. The biggest concern with potted plants is that the root system is exposed to ambient temperatures when not in the ground. Wrapping them the best you can will help keep some of the heat from the plant inside the pot.

You will still need to water, mulch, and cover the potted plant if you expect them to last the winter. To avoid all of this it’s best to bring them inside or store them in the garage. That’s not always going to work for everyone so just wrap the pot as best you can to help give the plant a fighting chance.

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Robert Sampson

I'm Robert Sampson and I live in Colorado where I spend a lot of time in the backyard with my family either grilling, playing games and sports, or working on a project to make our backyard a better place to be.

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