Frost can be a gardeners friend or enemy, it is early February as I write and I am eagerly awaiting a frost to help break down the big clods of earth I have turned on my allotment. This is especially useful if you have thick clay soil.
Frost as a Friend
A frost will also kill off some pests and is especially good for killing off weeds. Just cover over the ground with some Mypex or weed suppressant material in the summer or as early as the land is available. Then in the late winter uncover and turn the soil over with a fork, hand weeding it and pulling out all the roots you find and burning them. Then leave the frost to do the rest of the hard work for you.
Frost as a Foe
Frost is also a foe and it can freeze your plants and can kill some of the less hardy ones. The danger comes when they thaw too quickly in the morning sun as the cell walls can become damaged by the sudden change in temperature.
A good garden has a number of defenses and I have highlighted a number of them below.
If your site has a slope, cold air can build up un the uphill side of any obstructions, resulting in plants being frosted next to a fence!
Many young trees will benefit from a sheet of fiber glass or old newspaper wrapped around the trunk. This is especially true of trees from warmer climates such as citrus and olive.
Mulch – Dark mulch will attract the days heat and store it whilst lighter mulch attracts frost and reflects heat.
Wind Break – The wind chill factor can also affect plants by blowing away the natural heat of a plant and lowering its core temperature. A wind break is especially good for young evergreen trees. Fine Gauge netting stretched around sturdy stakes will protect against the worst effects of the cold.
Snow – The snow works as a blanket on many plants warming them up, so leave it there!
Support – Higher winter winds will affect some of the taller plants, steak up any that look like they might become damaged.
Cover – Any root crops such as parsnips and leeks should be covered up with straw, bracken or leaves. You can keep this from blowing away with a bit of netting. This will help you to lift them when the rest of the ground is solid.
Cloches/ Cold Frame – Using a simple cloche can protect any venerable plants. Try using a pop bottle with the bottom cut off on the smaller plants. Cold Frames or Cloches can be made quite easily, follow this link for a cold frame someone else has made. I have used a few bricks and an old window on some of my herbs and this has kept them alive throughout the winter. There are also instructions in our book the Selfsufficient-ish Bible.