How to Protect Fruit Trees from Frost

For numerous reasons, protecting your fruit trees from frost is essential to a gardener. From the commercial farmer to the hobbyist horticulturist, frost is a natural killer. Unfortunately, even fruit trees, in their mighty, cannot put up much of a fight against freezing weather. Picture the Artic for a moment, sparse, unhabitable. Yet, that is what would come about eventually.

The water particles soak into your fruit tree when they get wet in winter; this typically occurs through rain and snow. If the weather is sub-zero, these soaked water particles expand, and as they freeze, the expansion breaks down the fruit tree’s cell walls in an excruciating process. This slowly progresses into the death of your fruit trees, frost damage, or both.

It begins with the plant being unable to carry the necessary nutrients efficiently before progressing into a splintering tree. Now you’re familiar with how frost damages plants, and trees, read on if you’re intrigued by how to protect fruit trees from frost.

What is Frost?

Frost is the weather condition that occurs when a thin layer of ice is present along an outdoor surface. For this weather condition to come about typically, it is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. This weather typically arrives in late autumn through winter to early spring. However, as will be seen, the weather can begin warming again, as though spring has started and suddenly cools to winter temperatures.

How is a Late Frost Dangerous for Fruit Trees?

After your fruit tree has been dormant, it awakes to warmer weather. The increased sunlight in spring encourages your fruit tree to begin growing leaves. This warming period, when trees spring back to life, is typically known as spring. On the other hand, a late frost is an event whereby a sudden period of freezing follows a warming period. This period of freezing is dangerous to plants as, typically, it comes at a time when seedlings may have just been planted.

Let’s explore farmers as one example. A farmer may find their efforts were wasted once the seedlings they planted in early spring die off due to the late frost. They would then also have to replace any seedlings if the growing was undertaken as a financial endeavor. According to Bloomberg, in 2021, this was an issue for European and American farmers alike.

At What Temperatures Should You Cover Fruit Trees?

If your fruit tree is susceptible to frost, you may consider covering it. Most trees would be covered when the temperature drops to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. However, this will depend on what type of tree you have. It can be beneficial to wrap trees in early spring to prevent any drawbacks of a late frost.

With smaller fruit trees, you could cover them with a blanket or fleece; one you don’t use will suffice, or a cheap one from a local store. If you have a fruit tree on the larger side, you may want to opt for a more professional option, the fleece jacket, which protects trees from temperatures under 17 Fahrenheit.

While you may decide not to cover your tree, it could be severely harmed if it is vulnerable to the weather.  

Does the Type of Fruit Tree Matter?

frozen cherries

The fruit tree type does matter when considering frosts. For example, apples benefit more from frost than citrus trees. When planting your fruit trees, you may want to consider hardiness zones. Hardiness zones refer to the average temperature of the soil in an area and if a tree is suitable for growth.

You may also want to consider the hierarchy of trees below from the most sensitive to frost fruit trees to the least.

  • Apricot and Almonds
  • Cherries
  • Peaches and Nectarines
  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Pears

Can Some Fruit Trees Handle Frost?

Yes, we already highlighted that apples handle frost better than citrus trees, as the apple tree can handle colder weather better, presumably up to -35 degrees Fahrenheit. Similarly, trees can also withstand such freezing temperatures, so if you live in an area with heavy snowfall, these could be good options.

How to Protect Fruit Trees from Frost? (Step-by-Step)

Unless you live in a warmer locale where you’re sure there will be no frost or freezing weather, it’s always best to take precautions.

1. If your trees are potted outside, you could attempt to wrap the pot with a material such as a bubble wrap or straw. This should have a warming effect on the soil.

2. Small potted fruit trees can be brought inside. You may have space in a garage or greenhouse where you can store such trees until the weather warms.

3. If your fruit trees are planted in the ground, you could add a layer of mulch. Mulch is proven to act like a blanket over the soil, keeping it warmer.

4. Cover your fruit tree with a fleece; opt for a fleece jacket if you have a larger tree.

5. Lift and store. If you’re worried that one tree may not survive outdoors, you can dig it up and pot it inside or plant it in a more suitable locale.

6. Following the above step, the tree could be planted in the correct locale; e.g., a slender tree near a wall will be kept warm.

7. You may want to protect your tree with a cloche or cold frame, which may create a greenhouse effect warming your fruit tree. For the best results, removing the cloche during the day is best.

What Can Happen if You Do Not Protect Your Fruit Trees from Frost?

What Can Happen if You Do Not Protect Your Fruit Trees from Frost

The worst thing that could happen if you don’t protect your tree is that it ultimately succumbs in the next year to frost damage. Frost damage can appear as splinters in your tree and even swelling of the tree in areas. That would be the long-term effects of the water expansion during frost.

Even if there is not much frost damage evident to the eye, your fruit tree may be in a weaker predicament to protect itself from disease.

Related Questions

Can Frost Kill My Fruit Tree?

Yes, your tree can be killed from withstanding frost damage, especially if the weather dips below 32 Fahrenheit and goes to freezing.

Will Snow Damage and Kill My Fruit Tree?

Snow does have the potential to damage and, in worse circumstances, kill your tree. The best precaution would be to wrap your tree before heavy snowfall or blizzards.

What to Do with Large-Sized Fruit Trees During a Frost?

When protecting larger-sized trees from frost, you could uproot them and move to another space or potentially cover them with a fleece jacket.

Final Thoughts

While frost and freezing weather could, in some circumstances, kill your trees, you can now take many precautions which ensure your hard work is not wasted. For example, you will potentially decide which potted plants need to be brought inside or think more carefully about which plant should go where. Hopefully, this article has helped you better understand frost and what to do to prevent any damage to your trees.

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