When heaven freezes over: How to keep plants warm this winter

Before the chill winds really begin to bite, it's time to think about wrapping up those delicate plants to see them through the winter

As we start to wake up to frosty mornings, gardeners are starting to think about dealing with really cold weather. Not just soggy, damp autumn, but freezing-cold winter, determined to ruin your best gardening plans. One of the nicest and most useful additions to the winter garden is a cold frame, which allows you not only to shelter your best pots through frosts, but also keep squirrels out of containers planted with expensive spring bulbs.

Most gardeners will admit to a secret hankering for a smart wooden cold frame, as Beatrix Potter drew for Mr McGregor, but you don't need to spend hundreds. You can construct the simplest frame using four straw bales and a piece of Perspex across the top. But, if the Peter Rabbit vision has bitten you, try www.crocus. co.uk, which has a substantial cold frame made of FSC-certified oak for £79.99 that somebody nice can buy you for Christmas.

Delicate plants often need help through the winter's coldest spells. The popularity of tender exotics such as bananas means bubble wrap can sell out as temperatures drop. But get organised well in advance and you can have it delivered to your door: for example, Harrod Horticultural (www. harrodhorticultural.com) sells 50 metres of insulating fleece for £12. (You can also use it as spring approaches at the allotment, to warm the soil for early sowings.)

Bananas will need wrapping from top to toe: at the RHS garden at Wisley, they get an outside layer of straw as well, for extra protection. For rhizomatic plants such as Hedychium, the ginger lily, it's more important to protect the plant under the soil. A thick helping of manure should tuck these plants in for the winter (except in the coldest areas, where you will have to bite the bullet and lift them, letting them spend the winter in frost-free pots).

And if you've enjoyed growing your own salad leaves through summer, don't give up now. You probably need to change what you are sowing, starting with a winter mix of red mustards, mizuna and rocket leaves. If you've been growing in a window box or flowerpot, think about switching over to polystyrene fish boxes (pinchable from your local chip shop), which provide that bit more insulation. If you're growing in the soil, you could consider buying a knee-high polytunnel, which lets sunlight through to your plants while giving them a bit of warmth through the coldest spells. Harrod Horticultural has them for £19.95.

Finally, when the frost does descend, don't forget to go out early in the morning with your camera. There's nothing like these cold, crisp days for the very best in garden photography. And look on the bright side: what's killingly cold weather for plants is also fatal for slugs. Now there's a consoling thought.

Winter busters: How to fend off the frost

Keep 'em snug

For those who truly want to pamper their plants, individual fleece jackets enfold the plant completely, zipping up like a coat. If you live somewhere windy, a large jumbo jacket might be the ideal solution.

£15.95, www.harrodhorticultural.com

Touch of glass

Give your garden a touch of Sylvia Plath, with a Victorian-style glass bell jar that will sit over your most treasured plants.

£24.99, www.crocus.co.uk

Pot of gold

If your top priority is protecting roots and pots, rather than top growth, think about a pot jacket. They fit around the pot, so you don't need to lift it up to put it on.

£14.95, www.harrodhorticultural.com

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