Best Plant Covers for Winter (With frost cloth alternatives)


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I grew up in a horticulture-centered household. When winter approached, we had the same conversation; how best to protect the outdoor plants from frost. My parents were content with heavy mulching, but in recent years, we have had to resort to using plant covers because the winter is harsher. 

The best plant covers for winter include burlap, fleece, frost cloth, lightweight cotton sheets, or polypropylene. You can also use plastic, polyethylene, blankets, or cardboard if it doesn’t weigh down the plant. Whatever cover you choose to use must touch the ground and trap heat from the soil.

When you expose your plants to frost, the water in the plant’s cells freezes, causing the plant to wilt and die. I’ll discuss the best winter plant covers and give frost cloth alternatives. 

What Are the Best Plant Covers for Winter?

When there is a forecast for an extended period of cold, you need to start placing plant covering on your outdoor pants when the temperatures fall below 36°F (2°C). This way, the plant can start to stay warm under the covers before the temperatures drop to freezing levels. 

There are several plant covers that you can use to protect your plants during winter.

1. Floating Row Covers

As the name suggests, floating row covers (frost blankets) cover a row of plants. These plant covers are typically polyester or polypropylene. Since they don’t absorb water, they are an excellent option for protecting plants against frost. Additionally, they keep the plants warmer during winter.

They are available on rolls 20 – 100 feet (6.1m – 30.5m) long and 6 – 12 feet (1.8m – 3.7m) wide. When choosing floating row covers, you will need to consider the weight. 

Rows of plants covered from frost
Photo 17796317 © Sever180 | Dreamstime.com

The thicker the floating row cover, the more protection it offers. However, dense row covers block more light from reaching the plant, which can be problematic if you leave it on for extended periods. Thinner floating row covers allow up to 70% of light to the plant.  

WeightLight PenetrationFrost Protection
Lightweight (0.45oz/13grams per sq. yard)90% – 95%Gives 2°F (-16.7°C) protection
Medium-weight (0.5 – 1.0oz/ 14 – 28 grams)70% – 85%Gives up to 4 – 6°F (-15.5°C – -14.4°C) frost protection.
Heavy-weight (1.5 – 2.2oz/ 43 -62 grams) 30% – 50%Gives up to 8°F (-13.3°C) frost protection. 
Here you see the correlation between weight, light penetration and frost protection from plant covers

The medium-weight and heavy-weight are the best for overwintering plants. At the same time, the lightweight options are best for keeping insects away from your plants. 

These row covers also come with additional benefits.

  • They help prevent transplant shock, especially when moving indoor-grown seedlings outdoors. 
  • You can cover the plants to keep pests from destroying your plants.
  • They also keep plants cool and prevent moisture loss when it gets too hot. 
  • Unlike other plant covers, floating row covers can lie directly on the plants without causing significant damage. However, heavy snow or frost can weigh the row covers down, so it is best to prop them up with PVC pipes. 

I use Floating Row Plant Covers. They are lightweight, breathable, durable, and are made from nonwoven polypropylene fabric, so it doesn’t absorb water. 

They are easy to spread, and the size is easy to manage. I like it even more because I use it to keep the frost away from my plants in winter, and in summer, it helps to control pest and bird attacks. 

2. Burlap Plant Covers

Burlap (Hessian) is a coarse, woven fabric from jute plant fibers. It is naturally brown, but you can also dye it different colors. People often use it for crafts and decorative arts.

However, burlap is known chiefly for its functions in the garden. You can make it into sacks, shade covers, and plant covers. They make excellent plant covers for plants during winter because they are breathable and don’t trap so much heat that the plants burn. It also doesn’t trap moisture. 

Shrubs protected from frost
Photo 103597133 © Iuliia Oleinik | Dreamstime.com

Although it is breathable, you should remove the plant cover during the day to allow the plants to absorb light. It also allows air to circulate to and from the plant. 

You may buy burlap wraps or ready-made sacks, which you can use to package and transport your garden produce. They are also great for sack races, both for kids and adults. 

The Jute Burlap Bags are eco-friendly, breathable, and versatile. They are also easy to maintain, sturdy and durable. When used as plant covers during winter, you only need to shake them out and dry them before using them for storage and other functions. 

3. Horticultural Fleece Covers

Horticultural fleece (garden fleece) is another insulating material that you can use as plant cover for winter. It is flexible and breathable, making it an ideal plant protective option for winter. It is also a barrier that protects plants from rabbits, squirrels, birds, and other wildlife. 

During winter, it keeps the soil warm, giving plants a chance at survival. Since the fabric is soft, wrapping it around plants or tree trunks is easy.

4. Mini-Greenhouse Dome

Mini-greenhouse domes are also great for winter protection. These plant covers are sturdy and can last through several seasons. 

They are also easy to use because you must cover the plant and remove the dome when the sun comes up. The mini-greenhouse has openings at the top to allow air and moisture exchange. 

The downside is this dome only works on one plant at a time, so if you have to protect multiple plants, you’ll need several of these structures.

Mini Greenhouses are multi-functional domes that you can use to keep insects and frost from the plants. The advantage of this plant cover is you don’t need to stake it to hold it above the plant. 

When you get the right dome size, you only need to pile soil at the base to keep it in place. However, if you feel anchoring stakes are necessary, the dome has holes at the bottom to facilitate this. 

5. Polytunnels

For frost protection, you can make polytunnels using a tarp or greenhouse plastic. The polytunnels work like row covers. However, the fabric is thick. This option is ideal if you are expecting heavy snow. These thick plastic sheets can hold plenty of weight when supported with hoops. 

6. Frost Blanket

The frost blanket is another frost cloth alternative you can use to protect plants from frost. They comprise 100% polypropylene fabric, which is ultra-lightweight. It allows proper air circulation, and it doesn’t absorb moisture.

This fabric comes in different weights, so you must be careful to get the right one for your requirements.

Fabric WeightSizeFeatures
Lightweight2.1oz (59.5 grams)Allows sunlight penetration. Only suitable for a very light frost.

Mid-weight

2.5oz (70.9 grams)
Lower sunlight penetration than lightweight frost blanket. 

Heavy-weight 

4.0oz (113.4 grams)
It doesn’t allow much light to pass through. It is only suitable for short-term use. 

The Planket Frost Protection Cover is available in rectangular and circular shapes. It is available in a range of sizes and at different prices. You can secure it to the ground with Planket landscape stakes. When not in use, you can easily fold and store it until the following season. 

If you want to use frost cloth check out my article about how to choose the right thickness for your plant.

7. Drawstring Plant Covers

These covers comprise lightweight, nonwoven material. They allow air circulation and moisture exchange. When using these covers, you should prop them to keep them from touching the plant. 

The drawstrings at the base hold the cover in place and keep it from being blown away. They are ideal for heavy potted plants that you cannot carry indoors. 

Although it protects the plants from frost, you should remove them at least once a week to let them take in more air. The drawstrings tighten and loosen quickly. 

Whichever plant cover you choose to use, timing is crucial. I have discussed the importance of timing when winterizing the lawn. Just like with the lawn, you should plan to cover your plants before the first frost. 

You don’t want to do it too early or wait until the first frost to start running around trying to find plant covers when it’s too late.  

Can I Use Landscape Fabric To Protect Plants From Frost?

When searching for plant covers, remember that the heavier the fabric, the more protection it offers. However, it doesn’t allow sufficient light and air to the plant—which is essential if you consider landscape fabric for frost protection. 

You can use landscape material to protect plants from frost, but for short periods. You should also prop it and ensure it doesn’t touch the ground or plant. Landscape fabric is thick to keep frost from the plant, but it retains too much heat and blocks light. 

If the first frost falls unexpectedly or before you are ready, you can use landscape fabric. However, you should remove the landscape fabric when the sun comes up. Otherwise, it will create a greenhouse effect, causing yellowing and wilting leaves.

This video supports the idea of using landscape fabric for frost protection. However, it gives limitations and what you can do to prevent heat damage. 

Can I Cover My Plants With Garbage Bags?

Plastic bags are probably your first go-to option when the first frost falls before you’re ready for plant protection. Garbage bags are plastics within easy reach for you to use. However, before using garbage bags, you need to know if it is safe or not.

You can cover your plants with garbage bags, but you probably shouldn’t. It will keep frost from damaging the plants, but it has several downsides. Plants can’t breathe when covered in plastic. When garbage bags touch the plants on a cold night, they will burn the leaves. They also trap moisture. 

You must carefully wrap the plant if you have to use garbage bags. Prop the garbage bag, so it doesn’t touch the plant on a cold night. You should also remove it to keep it from heating up and burning the plant. 

Can You Use Cardboard Boxes To Protect Plants From Frost?

When in high school, I worked at a grocery store and was amazed at the multi-functional nature of the cardboard box. One of the fascinating functions was how we used cardboard to store ice for hours. If you have cardboard boxes, they can be handy during winter.

You can use cardboard boxes to protect plants from frost because they are good insulators. They trap heat and prevent heat transfer, hence suitable for protecting plants from frost. They also come in different sizes, so it’s easy to cover plants. However, the box should be an inch from the plant.

The advantage of cardboard boxes is they are reusable. Remove the cardboard box in the morning, and you may use it again at night. The cardboard box also decomposes and can be added to the compost.

Can I Cover Plants With Sheets?

If you have a light freeze or short cold snap, you can use materials readily available in your home to protect your plants. Fortunately, there are several items you can use to cover your plants and keep frost from destroying them.

You can cover plants with sheets because they keep the ground around the plant warm and keep the frost out. It also remains cool even when the surrounding air becomes warm, so the plants are not at risk of burning or wilting. Bed sheets also allow moisture to escape, saving the plant from rot.

Manufacturers design some sheets to protect plants from frost, but they work as a short-term remedy. The main challenge is they absorb water, so you should look for alternatives in case of a heavy frost. However, the sheets work great for light frost protection.

Conclusion

When it comes to frost protection, you have multiple options. Some items around your home can come in handy, especially for sudden cold snaps. For example, old bed sheets, pillowcases, sleeping bags, and buckets are readily available household items that you can use as plant covers for winter. 

Commercial plant covers are ideal for long-term frost protection because manufacturers specially design these covers to keep frost at bay—and keep the plants alive simultaneously.

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Lars

I am always happy to share all my knowledge about how to keep your garden in good condition and make it special.

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