Plant Covering Materials – Ideas For Covering Plants In Cold Weather

A woman prepares for frost in the garden by spreading an insulating cover over tender plants like these sweet potato vines.
Image by ErikaMitchell

By Mary H. Dyer, Master Naturalist and Master Gardener

All living things need some sort of protection to keep them comfortable during the winter months and plants are no exception. A layer of mulch is often enough to protect plant roots, and in more northern climates, Mother Nature provides a layer of snow, which serves as a great winter covering for plants. However, many plants depend on a little extra protection to survive until spring. Read on to learn about covering plants in cold weather.

Is Covering Plants in Cold Weather Really Necessary?

Frost covering for many plants is of limited use, and the best way to protect plants, according to horticulturalists at University of Georgia Extension, is to ensure your plants are properly watered, fed and protected from pests during the spring and summer.

Healthy plants are hardier and can withstand cold weather better than weak, unhealthy plants. Most importantly, plan carefully and choose plants that can survive in your growing zone.


If you use plant covering materials, use them only during the cold spell and remove them as soon as the weather moderates.

Young evergreens can suffer sunscald for the first two to five winters. A light-colored winter covering will reflect the light and keep the bark at a relatively consistent temperature. Be sure to water evergreens deeply before the ground freezes, as evergreens are unable to replace moisture lost to winter wind and sun.

Types of Winter Covering for Plants

Here are the most common plant coverings for protecting plants in cold weather or frosts.

  • Burlap – This natural fiber is an effective winter cover for marginally hardy plants and works well as protection for young shrubs and trees. Wrap the burlap loosely around the plant, or better yet – create a simple tepee of stakes, then drape the burlap around the stakes and secure it with twine. This will prevent breakage that can occur when burlap becomes wet and heavy.
  • Plastic – Plastic is definitely not the best winter covering for plants, as plastic, which doesn’t breathe, can trap moisture that can kill the plant in a freeze. You can use plastic in a pinch, however (even a plastic garbage bag), but remove the covering first thing in the morning. If a sudden cold snap is predicted, an old sheet or a layer of newspapers offers safer protection than plastic, which can do more harm than good.
  • Polypropylene or polypropylene fleece – You can find many types of polypropylene plant covering materials at garden supply stores. The covers, often known by names such as garden fabric, all-purpose fabric, garden quilt or frost-protect, are available in various thicknesses with varying degrees of protection. Polypropylene is useful in many cases because it is lightweight, breathable, and allows a certain amount of light to enter. For large applications, it is available in rolls. It can be laid directly on the ground or wrapped around a framework made of stakes, bamboo, garden fencing, or PVC pipe.

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