Winter is here. And that means it’s time for us humans to get cozy inside our homes with hot chocolate, blankets, and fireside chats about what we did over the holidays (or not). But when winter comes around, so does Mother Nature — specifically, she brings her icy claws right into our yards and gardens in order to kill everything within reach.
With all those beautiful flowers and leafy greens gone, there may be an empty spot where once stood a thriving garden or two. If this has happened to you before, don’t worry! You can still salvage some of your lost greenery by covering them with large pieces of fabric like old t-shirts, bed linens, towels, etc., which are then tied up and placed over the area until springtime arrives. The only problem is that these items aren’t great at insulating against frigid temperatures, nor do they protect delicate foliage from being damaged during storms.
Another issue is that many people have been using black plastic garbage bags to “cover” their plants after taking down decorations for the season. While this might seem like a good idea because black bags provide ample shade while protecting the roots from direct sunlight, using them actually ends up doing more harm than good if used incorrectly. Here’s why…
Why You Shouldn’t Use A Trash Bag To Cover Your Plant
First things first, let’s talk about how trash bags work. They’re made out of strong paper material stretched between 2 layers of heavy duty nylon mesh, making them highly breathable. This allows excess moisture to escape but also lets air circulate under the bag, keeping its contents moist. Black bags often come with grommets along both sides near the bottom to prevent soil from falling through and getting stuck underneath the edges. These same holes make it easy for rainwater to pool beneath the bags and run off without soaking the roots. However, due to the fact that most plants’ root systems tend to grow downward rather than upward, water tends to collect below the base of the stem. When this happens, bacteria start multiplying and rotting the food source, causing disease. In addition, the constant movement of wind across the surface of the bag creates additional friction between the ground and the roots, further slowing growth. Lastly, since all living organisms need light in order to survive, placing dark objects over top of a plant slows photosynthesis.
What Causes Frost On The Plant
When outside temperatures drop below freezing and stay there for long periods of time, ice crystals form on exposed surfaces. Since plants produce sugars via photosynthesis, which uses energy from sunlight, they can become very vulnerable to damage caused by frost. Once ice begins forming, it’ll turn brittle and snap easily. By contrast, plants covered with lighter materials such as plastic won’t be affected nearly as much because they’re better able to dissipate heat and maintain warmth. As soon as the sun goes behind clouds, however, the temperature drops even lower — sometimes reaching -20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29 Celsius) or less. At this point, frost becomes a serious concern.
Frost damages plants in several ways. First, ice crystals that break apart while growing begin splitting cells in the stems. Next, when thawed water re-freezes and refreezes, it expands again and forces itself back into the cell walls, bursting them open. Then, after the weather warms up enough to melt away the ice, enzymes called proteases digest proteins found in cell walls. Without these components, the tissues continue to degrade and eventually die. Finally, when frost turns directly onto the green parts of the plant, the chlorophyll molecules responsible for carrying photosynthetic energy to the leaves become deactivated. All together, these effects cause significant tissue degradation, leading to browning, wilting, and eventual death.
Trash Bag Alternatives To Cover The Frost
During the warmer months, many people enjoy sitting outdoors on their porches or patios enjoying fresh breezes while reading books, writing letters, or simply relaxing. Unfortunately, during colder spells, many outdoor spaces tend to transform into ice caves, especially places like deck railings and pergolas. Instead of having to move indoors and risk contracting COVID-19 or other viruses, consider bringing one of these areas inside. Covering it in something warm, yet flexible is key to ensuring it doesn’t freeze solid — try wrapping it in thick sweaters, scarves, socks, or anything else that provides adequate protection. For extra measure, add an electric blanket or space heater to keep the entire room nice and warm.
If you prefer to leave the porch/patio permanently, another option would be to purchase a portable screen tent equipped with either LED lights or solar panels. Simply set up the structure wherever you’d like to create the illusion of a permanent shelter, plug it in, and voila! A temporary indoor oasis awaits you.