Monday, January 6, 2014

Quick and Easy Ways to Prepare Your Garden for the Impending Polar Vortex

Wouldn't you know it? Just 2 years after USDA altered the climate zone map, it looks like we're heading for record-breaking cold. Will it push us back to Zone 6b? I sure hope temperatures stay above 0. If predictions are correct (and how often does that happen?!), we'll need some serious winter protection. Here are a few easy steps you can take to protect vulnerable plants and support wildlife, just in case a deep freeze pushes our boundaries:

  1. Harvest greens that normally survive around the freezing mark, but that may not endure much more. Parsley, radish, kale, spinach and other greens survive until hit by a truly hard frost. Make salad, tabouli, soup, and pesto while the supplies last. 

Parsley stays fresh until it's exposed to serious frost. 
2. Fashion a cold frame from heavy plastic, or purchase a ready-made cover for raised beds. Use garden hoops, pvc pipes, or a tent structure to support the cover. Just remember to remove the plastic when temperatures are above 6o degrees. The plastic traps heat quickly and efficiently, which may be harmful when it's hot out. When it's below freezing, though, a simple cover extends the season for winter crops.
A ready-made cold frame is nice, but plastic works as well.
3. In the absence of a cold frame cover, mulch beds with 2 inches of straw or leaf mulch. Greens will emerge when the weather warms.
Straw is makes for excellent insulation.

4. Protect young trees and shrubs accustomed to warmer climate zones by surrounding them with chicken wire, stuffing them with dried leaves or straw, and surrounding them with landscape fabric or burlap.

Don't let the death of young trees haunt  you: encircle them with straw and landscape fabric!
5. My rosemary was damaged by a recent windstorm. I clipped the broken branches and hung them  in a cool, dark room to dry. Sage is going strong, so I decided to harvest some before the arctic snap does its damage. Thyme is also ripe for drying. There are several ways to preserve and dry herbs. Hanging them upside down lends a homely atmosphere, heavenly scent, and visual delight to an underutilized work room.
Rosemary and sage hang from this magnificent plant stand, built by my husband.
Soon, it will be covered with seedlings. Using it to dry herbs extends its purpose and adds life to this basement work room.  
6. Remember that birds and other wildlife struggle to find food and water when winter banishes wild food sources and water freezes. This window bird feeder helps our feathered friends survive winter and provides endless delight to those of us watching from inside.

A clear window feeder is a life saver for birds, and source of happiness for birdwatchers.

Water is vital to birds and other wildlife. A heater in this birdbath ensures at least one good source of water. 


  1. Hello there! I found your blog a couple of weeks ago and it really caught my eye, being from Northern Virginia myself. Just out of curiosity, did you make the cold frame bed covers yourself or buy them pre-made? I plan to use some this year and have been debating whether I should make them or buy them. Thanks!

  2. Thank you for writing. I purchased the fitted green cover from Gardener's supply. The plastic cover is home-made!