How to Safeguard Your Plants from Frost with a Tarp

When winter arrives and temperatures plummet, protecting your plants from frost becomes a top priority. One method often touted is the use of a tarp. But will a tarp protect plants from frost? This is a question that many gardeners grapple with.

Tarps, while commonly available and easy to use, are not necessarily the best choice for frost protection. They’re plastic, which means they lack breathability and can potentially cause more harm than good. Yet, when used correctly, a tarp can provide a degree of protection against the freezing conditions of the night.

However, it’s crucial to remember that a frost-damaged plant can recover, but it requires patience. The recovery can take a long time, which is why preventative measures, such as covering your plants before a freeze, are so critical. While tarps can play a role in this, they’re not the most effective material for the job. So, let’s delve into the details of using tarps for frost protection and explore some alternatives.

Will a Tarp Protect Plants from Frost?

So, you’re probably wondering – will a tarp protect plants from frost? Yes, it can. But it’s not the most recommended material for frost protection. The very nature of a tarp, being plastic, can cause more harm than good if not used correctly.

Tarps aren’t as breathable and light as covers made of more natural materials such as cotton, linen, blankets, and newspapers. These materials are ideal because they effectively tend to the needs of your frost-fearing flora. Their breathable nature means they won’t suffocate your plants, and they’re lightweight enough not to damage them.

Remember, uses for tarps in your garden can extend beyond just frost protection. They can be beneficial, especially when unpredictable weather strikes during the spring and autumn months when your new plants may be particularly vulnerable. You’ll want to prevent losing your investment in your greenery due to an indifferent sprinkling of frost.

Should your plants fall victim to frost damage – don’t worry! There’s still hope. A frost-stricken plant can bounce back, though a good dose of patience will be your closest companion during this rehabilitation period. Sure, recovery can be a long process, your best bet remains in preventing frost damage in the first place.

Speaking of prevention, remember that your garden’s soil can be a fantastic insulator and thermal regulator. This quality makes it possible for root veg nestled in the earth to weather a couple frosts. So consider covering your tender plants with commercial frost cloths or row covers. You can easily source these items from your local garden centre.

How Frost Affects Plants

In order to protect your plants effectively from frost, you first need to know how it impacts them. Let’s start off by understanding what frost actually is.

Understanding Frost

Frost forms when water vapour changes from a gas to a solid due to temperatures dropping below the freezing point. This typically happens overnight, especially under clear, windless conditions, creating perfect conditions for what’s known as a ‘temperature inversion’ — a phenomenon where ground surface cools more rapidly than the air above it.

The major deciding factor for frost is temperature, especially when you have moisture in the surrounding air, as would be the case on foggy nights or when there’s dew formed overnight. Such conditions promote frost, especially the formation of ice crystals.

Visible Effects of Frost on Plants

The immediate effects of frost on plants can typically be noticed within two to three days. The signs of frost damage include blackened, distorted, or limp growth, and the leaves on evergreen plants and shrubs can potentially turn green. In the case of softwoods and actively blooming plants, these could exhibit signs of browning and soft or mushy leaves and buds.

Potential Damage Caused by Frost

Frost can be absolutely deadly to unprotected garden plants. It injures them by turning the water in the plant cells into ice crystals. This disrupts the normal flow of fluids within the plant and damages the tissues. That said, this mainly affects frost-tender plants. For certain plants, though, a light frost – temperatures in the 28°F to 32°F range – won’t cause as severe damage as a hard frost, which involves temperatures below 28°F.

Moreover, the threat of frost in spring greatly increases when the sky is clear and winds are relatively calm, causing a temperature inversion. The stable layer of air in the atmosphere can drastically reduce temperatures close to the surface, leading to frost formation.

It’s important to familiarise yourself with the different plants you have in your garden. Some plants are more frost-tolerant than others. Cold-tolerant perennial plants, for instance, undergo a dormant period during winter, shedding their leaves to avoid freezing over and then recovering once the cold season is over.

Using Tarps to Protect Plants from Frost

Using Tarps to Protect Plants from Frost

When it comes to winter plant protection, you’ve likely pondered: will a tarp protect plants from frost? While tarps may serve as a short-term solution, they’re not always the best option due to their plastic nature and harmful potential. That said, when used correctly, tarps can offer some protection.

Selecting the Right Tarp

While tarps are not always the ideal choice for frost protection, specific types could offer some benefits. For instance, a silver UVR heavy-duty poly tarp resists mildew, handles temperature changes, and isn’t easily damaged by sunlight. On the other hand, a slip and slide tarp restricts weed growth, creating walking paths for easy planting and watering.

If you opt for a tarp, aim for one UV-treated to counter sunlight damage. Ensure it’s easy to clean, and roll it up for storage once you’re finished. Size matters too, so choose enough surface area to cover your plants adequately without damaging them.

Properly Securing the Tarp

A significant challenge in using tarps is ensuring they are properly secured. Wind can easily lift the material, exposing plants underneath to harsh weather conditions. You should anchor down the edges with bricks, stones, or even lumber, and clip ends together to keep the cold air away.

Avoid letting the tarp touch the plant, as the weight and cold can damage the foliage. Use empty flower pots or plastic containers over smaller plants to provide extra layers of protection. For sprouting seedlings, a low-to-ground tarp is useful, and as the plants grow with the frost risk reducing, raise the tarp higher.

Creating a Microclimate for Plants

A creative way of countering harmful frost effects is creating microclimates in your garden. Plant less hardy trees near a west or south-facing wall, which can offer radiant heat and constitute a space warmer than the open areas.

Boulders, large shrubs, fences, and canopy cover from trees can provide similar protection. By choosing plants suited to your garden’s climate, you potentially sidestep the disappointment of losing plants to frost.

You can utilise smaller hot caps made from recycled milk or soda bottles, newspaper tents, or even straw mulching for smaller plants. This way, you achieve a practical solution in the interim to avert cold damage until temperatures subside.

Benefits of Using Tarps for Frost Protection

Exploring the workaround of using tarps can quite literally save your budding spring garden from an unexpected frost attack. Contrary to their hefty appearance, tarps are quietly effective in insulating your vulnerable plants against the quintessential shock of early or late frost.

Minimising Frost Damage

The chief reason for employing a tarp in your garden is as an armoury against frost. In the temperamental seasons of spring and autumn, predicting the final frost is an uphill battle. A slip-up may result in the loss of your plants, for frost doesn’t discriminate. If you’ve reared 20 plants, shelling out £3 each, a surprise frost could hit you with a loss of £60 in one go – not to mention having to splurge the same amount for replacements.

So, the question arises: why risk it? Being proactive by using a tarp could tip the odds in your favour.

Warning: Tarps are not completely foolproof. There’s a downside to using plastic tarps – they quickly let the cold permeate, especially when moisture sneaks in. And if you unintentionally leave the tarp on in the morning, soaring temperatures coupled with burgeoning moisture levels could be detrimental. Your plants need their morning sunlight. The caveat here is timing – tarps are only a short-term solution.

Saving Time and Money

Tarps come with practical benefits. They’re readily available and affordable. If forecasting frost poses a challenge, tarps can offer a saving grace. Even if frost does descend upon your garden, the correct and timely use of a tarp can minimise losses. They’re an inexpensive defensive barrier against the ravages of unpredictable weather.

Moreover, tarps can save a significant chunk of your time. You’ve invested not just money, but also a precious part of your life in nurturing your garden. That’s an investment you’d naturally want to safeguard. Proactively deploying tarps can make all the difference between watching in despair as Jack Frost annihilates your plants, or standing back watching them thrive.

It’s also worth noting that tarps can act as a protective shield for smaller plants in springtime. Setting empty clay pots or plastic containers over individual seedlings, coupled with laying a tarp, provides an extra layer of insulation against the cold. Plus, it stops them from getting crushed by the weight of the tarp.

Finally, frost knows no boundaries. Even the so-called ‘frost-free’ areas can succumb. Therefore, it would serve you well to keep an eagle eye on the weather forecasts during the fall and spring. Protecting your plants may be easier than you think, with the right approach using handy tools like tarps.

Frost Protection Methods to Consider

Other Frost Protection Methods to Consider

Apart from tarps, other practicable methods can also offer your garden a strong defense against frost. With a strategic mix, you can extend your plants’ survival during frosty spells. Let’s delve into some other methods you can adopt.

Using Mulch

Mulch serves as a fantastic insulator, shielding your plants against cold weather. Covering your garden beds with mulch creates a barrier that retains heat, preventing roots from freezing. Organic mulch such as compost, small bark, wood chips, straw, or chopped leaves can provide optimum protection. Aim to lay the mulch around 2 to 4 inches deep around shrubs, young trees, evergreens, or tender perennials. However, be sure to leave an inch or two opening around the central stalk to allow the soil’s warmth to move up through the plant. When the weather begins to warm up, remove some of the protective mulch to allow the soil to breathe.

Applying Sprinklers

Water has a unique property which can be used for frost protection. When water transforms from a liquid to a solid, it gives off heat energy, which can help prevent frost on your plants. The trick is to set up your sprinkler system to continuously spray plant foliage. Remember that this method works best if the spraying is continued over the period of freezing (usually overnight) as a one-time water application won’t cut it. Be cautious, though, not to mistakenly wet the plant’s leaves because this could harm them.

Building Protective Structures

Creating protective structures around your plants can also be very effective against frost. These structures, which can include frames covered with fabric, cloches made out of plastic or glass, and tent-like constructions, help keep the frost at bay. If you have a lot of plants to protect, you can construct frames (PVC works great) to support fabric covers. Ensure fabrics don’t come into direct contact with plants, as it could burn them. Secure them with weighted stones or bricks at the edges, and remember to remove the covers in the morning once the temperatures rise. Placing electric lights within these structures can offer added warmth. If you have potted plants, consider moving them to a more protected site, such as by the warm side of a building.


So, you’ve seen that a tarp can indeed be a viable solution to protect your plants from frost. It’s a practical, cost-effective method that’s easy to implement. But don’t forget, there are other options out there too. Mulch, for example, can act as a great insulator against the cold. Or you might want to consider using sprinklers to spray your plants, capitalising on the heat energy released during water’s phase transition. Even constructing protective structures or using cloches could be a good fit for your garden. Whatever method you choose, it’s key to stay alert and proactive in your frost protection efforts. After all, your plants are depending on you!

Curb Wise