Article by the Reader’s Digest Editors
Understand the weather
Use thermometers and barometers to track the temperature and know when bad weather is approaching. Thermometers should be placed in an area without any direct sunlight for an accurate reading. A barometer is needed to gauge changes in atmospheric pressure, as rapid fluctuation is a sign of unstable weather. Another easy way to note atmospheric pressure is to pay attention to birds. If they’re flying low to the ground, barometric pressure is low. High-flying birds indicate higher barometric pressure.
Keep wind out
Protect young or delicate plants from wind by hammering a few stakes in the ground surrounding them. Then, wrap a burlap barrier around the stakes to create a barrier that should deflect harsh winds. With young trees, wrap the trunks with burlap or commercial tree wrapping to prevent wind damage. These wrappings can be removed after the trees are more mature, or in about a year.
Prevent constant freezing and thawing
The constant freezing and thawing of plants can be as harmful as cold temperatures. Use mulch to limit damage by spreading three inches of mulch on the ground surrounding plants to help maintain a constant temperature. Then, cover with netting, chicken wire, or tree branches to protect from wind. But remember that once a plant has been damaged by frost, it most likely cannot be saved and the smartest move is to simply remove it from your garden. Keep soil healthy when it warms up by learning how to compost.
Remember the east-west line
When planning your garden, remember that the sun rises and sets to the south of the east-west line during wintertime. This will cast long shadows on the north side of your home, reducing sunlight and limiting the types of plants that will thrive in these areas. Additionally, winter light is more subdued to eastern exposures than areas facing south or west.
Shield small plants
If you know bad weather is around the corner and want to protect your small plants, cover them with a plastic bag, cardboard box, upside-down flowerpot, or even a plastic laundry basket to protect them. Whatever covering you choose, make sure to weigh it down with a stone or a brick. Or, drape a thick blanket or quilt over plants before nightfall to trap soil heat and protect plants from light frost. We’ll go ahead and add “blanket” to our list of must-have garden tools!
Consider plant hardiness
For plants that aren’t particularly hardy, plant on the side of the house placing south or southeast. The proximity to the house will protect the plant from severe winter winds and keep it warmer, and the plant will be given sun exposure in the mornings.
Protect early-blooming trees
Prevent damage to early-blooming trees by planting them on the north side of the house or on a north-facing slope. This will delay or lessen light exposure and provide safer, more gradual thawing. Plants that blossom early should also be obscured for direct morning sun, as a gradual thaw will minimize the damage done by frost.
Vines, shrubs, and trees that are found near walls can be protected from cold temperatures with a frost shade. Mount a piece of wood at the top of a fence or wall and use it to hang a piece of canvas or tarp. When temperatures drop, use it to cover plants. Raise the shade when it warms up, then lower it in the late afternoon to conserve heat for the chilly night ahead.
Go against your instincts
Run a sprinkler over delicate plants on cold nights. As the water freezes on the plants, it will give off heat and keep them warmer than the surrounding air. This trick is often used to protect fruit trees to protect crops from unruly weather.
Resist spreading salt
Though you may be tempted to sprinkle salt over walkways and driveways to prevent icy slips, remember that the runoff from spreading salt can damage plants. Instead, use wood ashes, sand, gravel, sawdust, or fertilizer to keep these areas safe.