Covering Your Plants: At What Temperature & How?

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Preparing your plants for winter is vital, as many species may suffer irreparable damage when exposed to cold temperatures. It’s essential to fully winterize your lawn and prepare your plants for the advent of winter—or it might be too late to save them. You can save your plants in winter by providing cover—but you may wonder at what temperature you should protect your plants and how?

You should cover your plants before temperatures reach 32°F (0°C). Ideally, it would be best to use cloth, but you can resort to plastic or other materials. Some tropical plants may be more vulnerable, and you should cover them earlier. So ensure you research your plant species.

Because numerous factors go into deciding the best way to protect your plants, it’s essential to understand some basics about keeping your plants healthy with falling temperatures. Plants are vulnerable in the winter, so they may require your assistance to stay safe and protected. Read on to discover the right conditions to cover your plants and the best ways to do it! 

When Should You Start Covering Your Plants?

Gardening is a popular hobby throughout the country. Different states have different weather patterns, so knowing when to cover your plants may need to be clarified. You should protect your plants when you anticipate a long stretch of cold weather, generally below the freezing point, for at least a few days. 

If you realize that cold weather is coming, consider preparing your plants to be covered. However, you’ll want to consider a few things before starting the process. Let’s take a quick look at some clues to help identify if you’ll need to start covering your plants during the coldest times of the year:

  • The leaves begin to sag. If you notice this, it is time to start protecting your plants immediately. 
  • Visible ice or frost is showing on the leaves. If you see frost or other apparent signs of cold on the leaves, you know you’ll need to cover your plants at night. 
  • The plant is starting to come loose from the soil. If your plant’s roots are no longer firmly in the ground, there’s a chance that it is suffering from cold shock. The roots getting loose is problematic and may require additional care, but it is a sign that you must cover your plant during the coldest times of the day. 

Cover Your Plants Before Long Stretches of Cold

If you anticipate that there will be several days or weeks of below-freezing temperatures, then you will want to start covering your plants. But it is unnecessary to protect most plants if you’re only experiencing frost or below freezing for several hours of the day. 

Many plant species will be just fine with a few hours of cold. Some plants may even benefit from it. It’s important to know what plant species you have before covering them, but most of them will do fine in cold temperatures if they are short-lived. 

The Type of Plant Can Determine When To Cover It

Plants that are native to warmer environments require different conditions than plants that are of hardier stock. Many plants can survive weather below 32°F (0°F), but many cannot. Knowing the plant type and maturity will help determine when to cover it. 

But some plants need to be covered or moved inside well before any signs of them freezing. You may need to cover tropical plants and other species at temperatures as high as 50°F (10°C). 

It’s critical to understand a few things about what type of plant you have while determining when you should cover them. Here are a few things to acknowledge when deciding how the type of plant affects when you need to protect it from cold weather:

  • You’ll want to know the age of your plant. Relatively young plants or ones you have recently moved from a pot to the ground may be more susceptible to cold conditions and need to be covered. 
  • Tropical plants are especially vulnerable to cold weather. If you have banana trees, ficus, or other plants that prefer hot climates, consider covering them long before the frost. 
  • The variety of a species can make a difference. Only some types of plants behave the same way. For example, some trees may fare better than others from the same family in the cold.  

Environment and Surroundings Can Determine When To Cover Plants

Temperature and species types are just some factors determining when you need to cover your plants. Another essential distinction is where you have the plant in your yard or garden. If your plant is in a specific location, it may be more protected and less vulnerable to the cold weather around it. 

Some environmental factors that can help determine whether your plants need to be covered include:

  • Plants that are close to fences and dividers may be less vulnerable. If your plants are near the edge of your garden and protected by different artificial or natural barriers, they may be less affected by frost or freezing temperatures. 
  • Mulch can make a difference. Surrounding your plants with mulch and other ground covers acts as insulation for your plants and can do a pretty good job of sheltering the root system and trunk from cold shock. 
  • Protecting vulnerable plants with more adaptable species. Planting hardier stock around your vulnerable plants may shelter them from cold weather, especially during shorter stretches. 

How To Cover Your Plants

Now that you understand when to cover your plants, you’ll want to know how to do it correctly. You can save your plants from winter damage by covering them. So let’s look at a few steps to protect your plants perfectly. 

Familiarize Yourself With Frost Times 

The first step is to know when to look for signs of cold weather. Depending on where you live, you may get below-freezing temperatures earlier in the year than expected. 

The first frost varies widely throughout the United States. Temperatures can go below freezing as early as September in Zone 3 and not until late December in Zone 10. You’ll want to keep a close watch on the average temperatures where you live to know when to expect to begin covering your plants. 

You Need the Right Materials To Cover Your Plants

It’s essential to pick a suitable fabric when covering your plants. Choosing a non-breathable material like plastic can harm the plants you are trying to protect. Make sure you avoid plastic when possible and stick with other materials to ensure your plants are being kept safe during the coldest months of the year. 

You’ll have a few great choices when deciding the material to cover your plants. Whether you want to recycle bed sheets or buy a product designed specifically for plants, there are many good options. 

Lay the Material Down Gently

You want to give your plants room to breathe when covering them. Take precautions to keep the cover down tight enough and give your plants a chance to transpire. Your best option is to have someone at the other end of the fabric so you can lie it down gently and not cause any damage to the plants. 

Secure the Cover on the Corners and Edges

The last step you’ll need to take is to put heavy objects on the sides and corners, so there’s no risk of the cover blowing away. You can secure your plant cover with several things, including: 

  • Rocks
  • Pots
  • Stakes.

Add Additional Protection for Your Plants

Another thing you can do besides using fabric is to add some more sturdy protection to your plant. Options could range from a temporary structure to a semi-permanent one, depending on how many plants you need to cover and how long your cold weather season lasts. Some additional covers you may choose to use are: 

  • Cloches
  • Buckets
  • Greenhouse

Tips for Covering Your Plants

Covering your plants can save them from frost damage, but you need to take extra steps to ensure you are doing it correctly. Luckily, I have plenty of experience protecting plants from frost and cold temperatures that I’m happy to pass along. 

When it comes time to cover your plants, not only should you follow the steps above to protect them, but you may also want to keep a few other things in mind. Here are some important considerations when you are protecting your plants from freezing: 

  • You’ll most likely want to uncover them throughout the day. Unless you live in a climate that gets weeks to months of freezing temperatures, there’s a good chance that your plants will have time to warm up during daylight. Be sure to take the cover off once temperatures exceed freezing so your plants get the light and nutrients they need.
  • Remember to keep watering your plants. It might not seem obvious, but your plants will still be thirsty even during winter. Keep watering your plants in the morning to keep the ground moist and under optimal conditions. The soil will trap warm air when wet and allow the plant’s temperature to remain at an ideal level for longer. 
  • Be sure to cut off any dead leaves or sticks. You want your plants to stay dry when they remain covered for long periods. To prevent this, you will want to trim dead leaves between covering them throughout the day. Cutting off old plant parts will prevent them from rotting and affecting the healthy leaves around them.

If you follow these steps, you’ll have a better chance of your plants staying healthy between frosts. Not only is it vital to keep your garden warm during freezing temperatures, but it is equally important to do so in a way that will take less of a toll on your plant life. 

Should I Move Plants Inside or Cover Them?

Covering your plants is a lot of work, but it is often worth the trouble when you keep them alive. Another option is moving your plants inside. But which is better, relocating them or simply covering them during frost?

Whether you cover your plants or move them inside may depend on a few factors. Let’s look at some things that influence whether or not you bring your plants indoors or cover them for the coldest months:

  • Consider if your plants are large or small. If you have small plants, especially those in pots, you can quickly move them inside at the first sign of frost. Relocating them may be optimal for your plant’s health as long as you remember to bring them outside again shortly after that. 
  • What kind of plants you have can make a difference. If you have tropical or subtropical plants you’ve been growing outdoors, it may be a good idea to pot them and relocate them before winter. If you have the time and means to do it, this could save you some headaches and protect them from colder temperatures. 
  • How long you plan to keep your plants may determine how you cover them. If you want to keep a plant vibrant and happy, move it to a pot during its early stages. Once it’s more established, it will have a better chance of surviving winter when you plant it outdoors. 
  • Cover your fruit-bearing trees. If you have young fruit trees, consider covering them with burlap to protect them from the cold. Alternatives also include felt, blankets and towels. 


Understanding when and how to cover your plants is crucial to keeping them healthy throughout the year. If you notice any signs of winter or see it approaching on your calendar, it’s a good idea to prepare your garden for freezing temperatures and frost. 

It’s also vital to know why you need to cover them and have a few tricks up your sleeve for when you need to do it. Having a game plan like I laid out will help protect your plants from the coldest times of the year, giving you a happy and healthy yard.

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