Baby, It’s Cold Outside! How To Protect Your Garden From These Frigid Temps


While we really don’t know for sure what the current temperatures will do to our plant material throughout Central Illinois, the low temperatures we are currently experiencing is similar to harsh winters of the past, where many gardeners did lose some plants due to (1) low temps, (2) high winds, and (3) low moisture coming off a dry Fall and Winter.

That being said…every season is different, and all we can do is the best we can by reacting and applying some extra protection, especially on more tender varieties, like Evergreens, Ornamental Grasses, Herbaceous Perennials, and newer plantings.

Read below to find out what you can be doing now and as the weather warms with tips from Prairie Gardens Plant Experts.


Shoveling and piling up snow around the base of your plants will help insulate the roots and protect them from the cold. Plus, once the snow melts, it will also give your them the moisture they are desperately craving, especially after the dry Fall and Winter we’ve just experienced. Just make sure you pile snow around the base of your and not on the branches, protecting them rather than suffocating them.


You can wrap your evergreens and smaller trees with burlap or even sheets or row covers to protect them from the wind, but know there is risk involved when putting something over the top of your plants. Why? Another snow load may come and you’ve now provided a solid surface for the snow to pile on, which can cause breakage or damage.

Ideally, you’d provide a screen around the plant instead of on top of it. While this time of year you’re not going to have much luck getting stakes in the ground, there are other ways to create a frame to attach coverings to, such as using wood.


Often times, there is enough food for your bird friends with many trees, shrubs and prairie grasses around our area; however, it’s often difficult for birds to find water sources that are not frozen over when it’s this cold. And it’s incredibly important to keep our pollinator birds around.

While it may be difficult to get a water heater to do it’s job when temperatures are freezing & below, it’s great to provide a water source as it warms up a bit. Your feathered friends can then get themselves clean, which allows them to insulate themselves much better than if they are dirty. Ever seen a bird perching and all puffed up? They’re pushing out their feathers to hold in more heat to their bodies, and they can do this better when they are nice and clean.

“I have a pond where I leave the pump running all winter, so the waterfall is continually flowing. When the water falls into the pond it leaves a hole in the ice, and it’s really amazing – the birds will collect around that hole to drink water and clean themselves…it’s a joy to watch during wintertime.”  

– Mary Ann Metz, Prairie Gardens Plant Expert


You May Need to Add Water: When you start seeing that ice cover in your pond, that’s water from your pond raising up and out and a sign the water level is dropping. So if you have a critical water level to maintain, especially around your pump, you need to remember to add water.

Break Up The Ice The Right Way: If your pond is frozen over, it’s better to boil some water and pour it over your frozen pond it concentrated areas to to let out some of the gasses to create an openings or holes. Make sure you don’t go out there and bang on the ice, since the shockwaves and sound waves can really harm your fish.

Add A Heater or Flowing Water Source: The best way to keep your pond from freezing over is by having a water heater or flowing water source.


If you didn’t get some of the tree wrap on before the temperatures dropped, you can get this done as the weather warms, using hardware cloth or the wraps themselves. This will help protect your trees from animals, as well as sun scald (which we’ve had some a good amount of sun) on your smooth bark trees.


One of the biggest things that causes things to suffer during cold winter temperatures, is the lack of moisture, causing your plants to dry up. Applying anti-desiccants, such as WILT-PRUFF, are especially effective on Broadleaf Evergreens, like Rhododendrons or Boxwoods to help hold the moisture in.

Anti-desiccants can only be applied when it is above freezing, so if you did not apply it before the temperatures dropped, wait to apply it once it gets up into the 30’s. Some protection is better than no protection.


Scout for critters (rabbits & deer are the usual suspects this time of year) especially if you’re in a wooded area. If you notice signs, consider roping off the your plants or adding a sheilding perimeter around your plants.


Your garden is a place your pets enjoy as well, but not as much in the winter! The paws of your pets can get really cold this time of year, so shovel out an area where they can better do their business. Change the area periodically or add a layer of peat moss to help neutralize the area.