How to Protect Plants from Frost & Snow

Learn how to protect plants from frost & snow, so new garden growth survives an April freeze. Includes simple, step-by-step instructions and tips for making the process go smoothly!

three peonies in garden with trellis

Here in Ohio, the spring weather has been both beautiful and renewing, but so unpredictable! We have had gorgeous days where I could actually smell the arrival of summer, but this week, we had the total opposite.

The warm weather had forced blooms and buds early, so my peonies were two feet tall, and some of my hosta plants were halfway up. When I saw the weather report earlier this week, I tried not to panic. We were expecting freezing temperatures, snow, and possibly sleet. What would that do to my plants?

peony plant in spring garden

The thought of having no peony blooms quickly spurred me into action. I had never been in this situation before, and I wasn’t sure exactly what to do. So I turned to Google, and was able to come up with a plan that I thought would work for my garden. I knew it was important to take into consideration the size of my plants, and how sturdy they were.

peony plant with round support

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How to protect plants from frost & snow: what you need

I set off for the garden center, and after some searching, came home with everything I needed to build little greenhouses around my peonies, allium, hydrangeas, and hosta plants. Here’s what I bought:

Step #1: the very first thing I did was gather some rocks from my garden border to weigh down the edges of the plastic drop cloths. If you don’t have rocks, anything heavy will work. Pavers, bricks, tile, stakes, etc.

peonies with plant supports in garden

Step #2: install the supports around your plants. This takes patience, because the rings are a little tricky. Once I got the hang of it, the process went very quickly.

Tip: I used the plant supports for the peonies, but not for the hydrangeas. Since the hydrangeas have very sturdy branches, I just draped a piece of plastic over each bush, and tied the tape around the base. I am so sorry…but I don’t have any pictures of the hydrangeas.

how to protect your plants from snow with plastic

Step #3: once the supports are in place, drape a plastic drop cloth over them, carefully making sure there is plenty of “give” and room for your plants to breathe.

Step #4: Use rocks or some other heavy items to weigh down the drop cloths. As you can see in the image below, I used two wastebaskets that I already had to cover two little peonies. Rose cones would also be a good choice if you have them. This method works great for young or very small plants.

how to protect your plants from frost with plastic

From start to finish, the entire process took just a few hours. To cover the hosta plants, I loosely laid a plastic drop cloth over them, and weighed the edges down with some pieces of tile. I knew the plants might get a little smooshed, but it was better than losing the leaves that were already popping through the soil.

At this point, I took a deep breath and hoped for the best! The next evening, right on time, the temperatures dropped, and the snow began to fall. This is what we woke up to the next morning. (4/21/2021)

spring snowfall in garden with birdhouse

I am certain that if the peonies had not been covered, they would have been completely weighed down by the very wet and heavy snow. I’m not sure about the other plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

how to protect your plants from snow with plastic dropcloths

Like most spring storms, the snow melted quickly, and the green grass was back in business by the next day. I left the coverings on until the night temperatures were well above freezing. So all in all, the plants were covered for three days.

UPDATE: I heard from some readers who said it wasn’t advisable to use plastic to cover plants. I used it because the forecast was for heavy, wet snow and sleet. I felt that sheets or towels would get too heavy with several inches of snow sitting on them. I’m certain the plant supports would have collapsed if they had been covered with heavy, snow covered sheets or towels. The daytime temps while my plants were covered never got over 55 degrees, so nothing was in danger of getting too warm. If your weather forecast only calls for frost, the fabric options would work fine. Definitely use what you think will work the best!

miniature schnauzer kelly from on sutton place

Kelly loved being outside after months of being cooped up. The grass is soft and very thick, so it was the perfect place for her to hang out while I was busy. She turned 13 in March, and although she’s had some health issues, right now she’s doing great. I’m hoping for a few more good years with her by my side!

This is one of those posts that you may not need now, but if and when the time ever comes, it will be right here at your fingertips. If you have any advice of your own for protecting plants from frost and snow, please leave us a comment. Thank you so much for stopping by and spending part of your day with me. I am so thankful for each and every one of you! Until next time…

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22 Comments

  1. Anne Marie Gorman says:

    How did your plants eventually turn out?
    I now live in Florida and use landscaping fabric to cover our plants because we only have a chance of frost. I believe that you used the plastic very well. I would have cried if my plants were that big and we got snow. I’m originally from CT, so I know how fickle the weather can be. I had perennials that seemed to forego whatever Mother Nature gave them. Didn’t plant annuals until Memorial Day weekend!

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Everything survived and is fine! We just got some rain this week, so it’s all growing like mad. Thank you for asking!

      1. Anne Marie Gorman says:

        That’s good to know. I just loved my peonies in CT. Wish they grew in Florida.

    2. Ann Drake says:

      They all survived beautifully! I completely forgot to cover my clematis though and it is partially brown. Live and learn!

  2. Thanks Ann. We’re here in Norton and had the same amount of snow that day. I have no idea why I purchased 5 small hydrangea plants two weeks ago, but they were there at Dayton Nursery and my husband said he would get them for my April birthday.
    He covered each one with a wide flower pot nightly when temps were to drop below 40 degrees. He still continues to do that. My hostas are close to our house and have grown by leaps and bounds. Guess we divide them next spring. Peonies are two years old and did well uncovered. You never know what Mother Nature has in store for us Buckeyes. Your flower garden is my inspiration and little by little mine is gaining a delightful appearance. Have a beautiful spring.

  3. Jeanie Nichols says:

    Thanks so much for the tips on covering plants. I never thought about the wire cages. I did use some large plastic buckets, flower pots, and tarps. Sheets and towels work for a frost, but the snow was too much for them.

    1. Hi from Winnipeg Canada!
      I leave the Peonies alone over winter, they can stand the cold, and snow is an insulator from the cold. Then it’s milder, and when I stake peonies or anything, I keep a bucket of old shoelaces – from men’s boots, runners, to shoes that I threw out and the laces were still OK. I pound the single stake down, and tie it with a lace around the entire plant. Don’t tie it in a knot, but as a bow, and it comes off easily, as you may have to move it.
      about the ants: they are necessary for the plant to create a bud, and then when the ants are on the bud, it will be opening up. Otherwise, the ants don’t stay around. Once the peony starts to bloom they leave. I have mine on the east side of the house – one a pink and one white. They never get moved. To put it in the hot sun is not going to be as great, as they need shade. This makes the blooms last longer.
      Hope this helps.

  4. Hope your plants survived the surprise snow. I am m surprised you were told to use plastic. I always heard that was a no no. In Phoenix we usually have one or two freeze nights and we have bins of king sized sheets that come out on those nights to protect the vegetable garden. The key is to bring the cloth all the way to the ground.

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Thank you for your comment! I added an update to the end of the post and explained why I chose the plastic. I had no idea anything froze in Phoenix!

      1. Ann, when I saw how someone used a washtub to grow plants, made me think of making fertilizer:
        We barbecue whole salmon, and before it is on the grill, I wash it on the lawn in a plastic tub. Get all the scales, guts etc. out and then place the cleaned fish on BBQ foil shiny side in, with your steak seasoning and onions if you like.
        Take the water from the tub and using a watering can, no strainer, put fish water and tap water into it, and pour around peppers, tomatoes, rows of vegetables, and you see fish fertilizer at work!

  5. Southwest Indiana experienced the same weather front last week. Digging through sheets to use as shields, I realized that a wet sheet would drag the fragile buds down. Still digging, I ran across big, blue IKEA bags. Unfolded, they maintained their shape and fit nicely over the peonies. A brick anchored each handle. IKEA hack

  6. Living in central Florida now, we do get some temperatures that dip into the low 30’s.I use old towels to cover some of my plants which I had to do a few times this year.Although the snow is very pretty,I surely do not miss it !!

  7. Thank you for this. Although we live in Alabama, we do not have to deal with snow, but this year it was a roller coaster of temperatures and heavy rains. I had concerns about the azaleas that bloomed earlier than normal right before temperatures plunged. The larger ones were okay, the smaller ones, loss every bloom and look sad right now. I will pass this on to my family living in NJ, though. Great detail and loved the pictures. Happy Spring!

  8. Barbara Murray says:

    Thanks Ann! We use old bedsheets (wire arches over the strawberry bed and plant supports) and clothespins to cover our plants, and in the vegetable garden we use Season Extender covers from Gardeners Supply.

    We actually have Cilantro, Parsley and Swiss Chard all year long using the Season Extenders here in Virginia. This year we are going for growing baby lettuces all through the winter.

  9. Old sheets are a great choice too since plastic will burn the tender plants after the sun comes up and left on too long. I learned that the hard way. Wise words from a Master Gardener once said, “It’s like putting a glass of water in the freezer with a sock over it”. Referring to covering your plants if the temps go below 29 degrees. Made since.

  10. I used sheets and clothes pins on peony growing rings, a tablecloth on Bleeding Hearts with a bamboo stake to hold it up, and even a big towel clipped in the trellis over my clematis. Took covers off during the day, dried cloth in dryer and put back toward night! Work, but so worth it!

  11. Karla Bannerman says:

    5 stars
    I too live in Ohio, just south of Cleveland. We had over five inches of that heavy snow. My peonies were up only a few inches, bit the hydrangeas were fairly well leafed out with tiny leaves. Got the burlap back out and recovered them. I was worried about mt clematis as it was new and had come up about six inches. Took straw and covered it. There was snow, but apparently was secluded enough the snow didn’t break off any of the tender shoots.
    So happy now our plants might get to grow and bring us joy, but who knows, we do live in Ohio. 🙂

  12. Gail L Martin says:

    5 stars
    My Pawpaw used tomato cages. Here in the south…when it snows, it is a strange day or two. You use what you have.

    1. GailByreiter says:

      We, too, had 6″ of snow here in Western New York on Wednesday. While nothing in my yard is anywhere near ready to bloom I was only concerned about the 2 cherry trees in my front yard. They are technically property of the town, but we have the only ones on our large circular street and everyone looks forward to the beautiful cherry blossoms. Several times they have been hit by frost and the blossoms killed. I think they may have survived the heavy wet snow because we didn’t have a really “hard freeze”.

      One time in 1996 my ex husband and I had just planted a large perennial garden along the side of our property. We no sooner got done planting several varieties of young plants and trees and a neighbor told us we were going to have frost. He offered the aisle runner they had saved from his daughter’s wedding. It was perfect. Lightweight and large enough to cover the entire area. What a life saver!

  13. Michelle Sheraw says:

    We are also in Ohio and I did the same thing but used water bottles as weights since I didn’t have anything larger and heavy enough. We attacked our recycling bin and filled jugs and water bottles and it worked like a charm. I think I “may” have lost one pot of flowers that had bloomed early but if that is all I am one happy Ohioan. So far everything else looks great and now we embrace the other extreme as we are to hit 80 this week. Oh Ohio and her major mood swings! :)

    1. Ann Drake says:

      Love the idea of filling water jugs and bottles. Thank you so much for sharing!

  14. Thank you Ann – gotta love springtime in the north!