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Our north Devon garden is exploding with life at this time of year. Deciduous trees are coming into full leaf, perennials are exploding, Rhodedendron are staggering into flower and the cherry blossom has given way to an abundance of apple blossom.
But a big worry for us and many other UK gardeners at this time of year is the possibility of a spring frost. In previous years we’ve suffered from the effects of frosts right up to the first week in May. Many of our plants, including our fantastic Gunnera, have suffered significant damage in the past, but this year we are hopeful that we’ll not be seeing any more frost until the autumn or winter.
Frost will affect many plants but is particularly bad for tender, new growth – which is why it can be so damaging in the spring time when new growth is just starting to appear. Frost damage can often be apparent immediately after a frosty morning but in some plants the frost damage doesn’t become apparent for many months.
In our garden it’s the Gunnera that have really suffered in previous years. The tender, fresh leaves turn brown and crisp after being frosted. Some of our Acer’s have also suffered in the past along with some of our fleshier plants like our Aloe. Where possible, we’ve protected plants whenever the weather forecast has predicted temperatures dropping to 3 degrees celsius or below.
By far the best frost protection for sensitive plants is not to plant them anywhere that they might become frosted. This means avoiding any frost pockets that might exist around the garden and selecting warm, sunnier spots for the most sensitive plants.
When protecting plants it’s good to use multiple layers of horticultural fleece that will trap warm air and prevent frosty drafts from affecting fresh plant growth. The ground around evergreens, conifers and tender shrubs should be covered with a thick layer of organic material which will prevent the ground from freezing.
Any plants grown in containers should be moved to a sheltered area of the garden and the pots wrapped in bubble wrap. This will help prevent freezing which can cause ceramic pots to shatter.
It can also be beneficial to leave the previous years growth on many plants, such as the penstemon, as this helps with frost protection. Tender perennials such as dahilias, cannas and fuchsias, should be lifted before the first frost.
Tender bedding plants should only be planted out after the danger of frost has passed – which, in the UK, isn’t until the end of May in the south and not until June elsewhere.
By taking a few basic precautions we hope that we’ve managed to avoid the frost damage we’ve suffered in previous years – but who knows what the long-range weather forecast really is.