Home My garden ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’ – sound gardening advice!

‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’ – sound gardening advice!

Succulents covered with bubble wrap
Succulents covered with bubble wrap

Blog: Watch out for those late frosts new gardeners…

It’s something that can catch out even the most experienced of gardeners, so if your plants have suffered in this weekend’s cold snap, you’re not alone.

From a balmy 20ºC on Friday, Sunday brought temperatures of 6ºC along with that wonderful North-East gift, a biting wind off the North Sea and the threat of frost for us in Gateshead – even a bit of snow and -2ºC in Consett, County Durham.

There’s a lot of truth in the old saying ‘Ne’er cast a clout till May be out’ (basically, never discard your warm clothing until the end of May). That’s a reasonable time to base the last frost date on but it will vary according to where you live.

I particularly like this from the Whitby Gazette, in 1855:

The wind at North and East
Was never good for man nor beast
So never think to cast a clout
Until the month of May be out

If you’re new to this gardening lark, the late frost is a pain in the butt, but something that can be managed. There is a lot of info on cold protection and frosts here.

What needs protecting? Here are a few…

  • Anything that needs to be taken indoors in winter and you’ve just put out (tender or half-hardy perennials): such as yuccas, succulents (agaves, aloes), dahlias, cannas, agapanthus.
  • Plants that you are hardening off: sweet peas, annuals, half-hardy annuals. Just because plants are marked hardy doesn’t mean they won’t feel shock during a big drop in temperature!
  • New plants bought online: even if they are hardy, they have probably been raised in a kinder environment and will be set back by adverse conditions.

How to beat late frosts

1. Don’t be fooled by a warm spring

Firstly, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by our lovely spring. This is not how things usually are! Plants sown or planted out too early will at best have their growth ‘checked’ (slowed down) or at worst, killed outright by frost.

2. Keep an eye on the weather forecast

Watch the weather forecast so you know if any cold weather is coming. Then…

Californian poppies covered with an old voile curtain
Californian poppies covered with an old voile curtain

3. Move pots next to a wall

If you can’t take plants indoors, move them next to a south or west-facing wall – it will give out heat overnight that has built up during the day, raising the temperature a few degrees.

4. Cover plants gently

If you can’t move them, protect plants where they are. Horticultural fleece is the standard that gardeners use but if you don’t have that, net curtains, newspapers and bubble wrap can all play their part. Lay it over plants gently – you don’t want to snap delicate stems. You’re only aiming to keep the temperature a couple of degrees higher than it would be.

5. Make sure covers don’t blow away

Secure your cover of choice well – nothing worse than it blowing off in an icy wind. If you don’t have fleece pegs, use bits of cane, bent wire coat hangers and I find plastic bag clips useful for joining sheets together.

6. Use common sense!

If temperatures are going to shoot up during the day, take off the covers – if not, keep them on. All a matter of common sense.

Yucca is a sheltered corner with net curtain and bubble wrap covering
Yucca is a sheltered corner with net curtain and bubble wrap covering

How gardening brings you closer to nature

Gardening is a way of life and I meant that in a positive way. It makes you look at the weather forecast (Countryfile on Sunday evenings is my go-to for the week) and pay attention to what is going on around you in the natural world.

Above all, gardening is a learning curve and always will be. There is always something new to learn, even if you’re an ‘expert’ who has been growing for 40 years.

What grows one year may not the next. It would be easy to have a tantrum and pack it all in (trust me, we’ve all felt like that sometimes over losses) but pick yourself up and try again.

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Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

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