How to Protect Your Plants from Frost Damage

Photograph of multiple tulips in a garden covered in snow.  The tulips are pink, yellow, red and orange in the flower bed.  The perennial flowers have snow perched on top of them.  Behind the blossoms is a gray, weathered picket fence.

With the coming of winter, the threat of snow and ice can make you worry about the delicate plants you’ve been nurturing all winter.With the coming of winter, the threat of snow and ice can make you worry about the delicate plants you’ve been nurturing all winter.

While many plants are bred to survive the winter weather, others will need your help to survive.

Here’s how to find out which of your plants will need protection from winter freezes, and how you can help them survive until next spring.

What’s the Difference Between a Frost and a Freeze?

When the temperatures drop in the winter, your lawn will experience both freezes and frosts. While a frost may not hurt your plants, a freeze can damage or even kill your plants.

During a frost, the outside air temperature approaches freezing, but remains shy of a freeze. A frost causes the temperature of your plants to drop, and can cause small ice crystals to form on their leaves or petals.

When the temperature drops below freezing, the water on the inside of the plant freezes. This causes ice crystals to form in the cell’s protoplasm.

If the ice expands too much it can cause the cells to rupture, leading to the death of your poor plant.

How To Know if Your Plants Can Survive the Winter

Whether you’re choosing new plants for your home or are looking to protect the plants you already own, look at the USDA plant hardiness map to find the hardiness rating.

This rating tells you the zones in the US where your plants will not only to survive, but thrive in seasonal weather. Likewise, it will also let you know which of your plants will need protection this winter (and which may need to be brought inside until spring).

Plants That Need Protection from the Cold

While you can rely on the hardiness rating to help determine the best plants for your garden, there are some general categories of plants that typically don’t fare well in colder climates.

If you’re expecting a moderate to severe winter, you’ll want to bring these plants inside to survive.

These plants include:

Tropical and Frost Sensitive Plants

  • Plants that grow naturally in warmer climates are typically not resistant to snow or freezing temperatures.


  • Although plants will die during a freeze, they can disperse their seeds during warmer months when the winter is mild, such as those that occur after El Niño events. These seeds can then grow in the spring.

Plants that Can Survive the Winter:

Root-Hardy Perennials

  • This type of perennial has the foundation to survive colder temperatures, but the leaves and stalks will die off during a freeze.
  • The good news is you can expect them to regrow during the warmer months since the roots will survive and begin the growing process again once they have warmed up.

Hardy Perennials

  • The hardy perennials, which include many trees and shrubs, can survive snow, ice, and winter temperatures by going into a dormant state.
  • In the spring, they become active again and begin to regrow their foliage.

How to Protect Your Plants From Snow and Ice

Here’s how you can protect your plants that can’t survive the winter cold:

Bring your plants indoors

For any tropical, warm-weather, or delicate potted plants, the best way to prevent them from dying or becoming damaged during the winter months is by bringing them inside for the season.

Cover your plants

Covering your plants and shrubs will not only help protect them against the potentially damaging weight of snowfall, but it can also help insulate them against the cold and freezing temperatures.

You can buy plant covers in different sizes at your local hardware or gardening store. You also can utilize everyday items at home to provide extra protection, like used milk jugs. You can cut the milk jugs to fit around your plant to provide extra insulation.

While you may be tempted to use blankets or sheets to cover your outdoor plants, it’s best to invest in a frost blanket. Your home blankets will likely absorb water, which will put additional weight on your plants and could lead to damage to the leaves and stems.

Instead, invest in a frost blanket. These are specifically designed to draw the heat from the soil while protecting against the colder outdoor temperatures.

Water your plants to protect them

Watering your plants before winter settles in can help give them the protection they need to survive a freeze.

If you water your plants the night before a freeze, the water in the soil will release moisture into the air throughout the night.

This can increase the temperature in the air, lending extra protection to your plant.

Be sure to still use a frost blanket to help insulate your plant from the cold.

Harden off your seedlings

You can help prepare your plants for the snow and ice by acclimating them to the drop in temperature.

Gradual exposure of your plant to the lowering outside temperatures can help to harden off your seedlings, making them stronger and therefore more likely to withstand the effects of winter.

To properly harden your seedlings, you will want to start the process on a mild day at least three or more weeks before the cold weather hits.

On the first day, you’ll want to put your plants in a sunny, sheltered location for at least 2-3 hours.

Continue to expose your plant for 2-3hours per day while slowly reducing the amount of watering for a week. As the temperatures get colder, expose your plants for a longer amount of time each day for the next week or two.

Once the hardening process is complete, you can transfer your plants to the garden and treat them with a weak fertilizer solution to aid in their transfer. Water them to help them root to their new location.

Maintaining your yard and landscaped areas is as important during the fall as it is during the rest of the year. Preparation for the winter not only helps with the preservation of your plants, but for the overall health and look of your yard.

GSC can help ensure that you get the best possible treatment for your lawn and landscaped areas year-round. Give us a call and we’ll help your lawn survive the long winter ahead so it can thrive next spring >