August 11, 2022

How to fight back against frost

Most SA gardeners will have lost a plant or two to frost over the years but, wherever you are in the state, there are ways to plant a frost-hardy garden.

For gardeners living in South Australia, we are privileged and sometimes challenged by a diverse range of climates and temperature zones, including the harsh arid north, the temperate coastal plains and the chilly Adelaide Hills.

As an Adelaide Hills resident and nursery worker, I consider myself fortunate to have less of the extreme heat of the north and the plains and enjoy a cooler, less exhausting summer.

Winter, on the other hand, can bring many of its own challenges. One in particular I encounter – at home in the garden and frequently at work in the nursery – is frost.

Frost comes with temperatures from zero degrees and below. These cold conditions do play an important role for some plant varieties, such as various stone fruit and some nut trees, but frost can also do unsightly damage.

In fact, it can have devastating results for frost-sensitive and delicate young plants. While running my own propagation nursery, some years ago, I had the unfortunate experience of losing many of my young tomato seedlings in a late “freak” frost, wiping out my entire season’s stock – a hard lesson learnt!

When planning and planting a garden, extreme weather conditions are a must to consider. A couple of important things to keep in mind when living in areas that experience frost are plant selection and how those plants are protected.

While it can look beautiful and some varieties require it, harsh frosts can damage young or sensitive plants.
Fast-growing and dense, a hedge of viburnum will withstand frosts.
Annuals such as sweet peas and pansies (right) will bring colour in the winter months.


Plant selection
There are many cool climate plants available in nurseries and garden centres including perennials and annuals, ornamental and productive, native and introduced, all of which can be planted and incorporated to create a beautiful, thriving and frost hardy garden such as:

Stunning flowering camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas.

Create fast-growing, dense, leafy hedges with escallonia, viburnum and the ever-popular photinia.

A favourite little shrub of mine is the hebe, coming in many forms and colours and differing in leaf and flower.

Ground covers such as myaporum and other tough natives provide low level forms and soil stability.

Lovely little annuals such as sweet pea, viola and pansy bring colour through the gloomy months.

And don’t forget the winter veg! Plant in autumn for a successful harvest of root vegetables for roasting and soups. Get your brassicas in for bountiful broccoli heads and cauliflower crowns and sow peas for fun times picking and podding.

Plant protection
Existing trees or sheltered areas can provide places for more sensitive plant varieties.

Also consider plant positioning – perhaps susceptible potted plants can be moved for the winter months.

Mulching will help maintain soil temperatures and moisture in turn reducing the opportunity for frost to settle.

Utilising temporary shelters or “plant tents” made from protective fabric will help keep frost at bay.

Frost is certainly a tough and sometimes trying occurrence but, if we are aware of its potential and prepared for its arrival, then our gardens can withstand and flourish throughout the cold months and for years to come.

Planning and forethought are hugely important factors in dealing with these conditions. Time and money can be saved and frustrations limited by researching your area and weather patterns. Talking to local gardeners and nursery workers can provide you with valuable knowledge and insight to assist in getting your garden established and frost hardy for years of enjoyment to come.

Good luck and happy gardening!

This article first appeared in the Winter 2021 issue of SALIFE Gardens & Outdoor Living magazine.

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