The important time to provide frost shelter for fruit trees is in spring. Fruit trees are actually pretty resilient against frosts in winter, and they can even do good by helping provide the chill hours your trees need.

Many gardeners worry that yellow leaves on their trees have been caused by frost damage, but this is not usually the case. In fact, frost damage usually results in either black leaves, burnt tips, or damaged fruit.

Spring is the dangerous time when a heavy frost can damage flowers, tiny fruit, or even drop-bears. The good news is that it’s perfectly possible to shelter your trees with a little thought and preparation.

So today we want to talk about a few different options for providing that shelter.

Our resident drop-bear on a freezing cold morning
Our resident drop-bear on a freezing cold morning

Infrastructure to provide frost shelter for your fruit tree

The first one is to build a frame over the tree. This is a great option, because you can use the same frame for bird netting, fruit fly netting, or frost cloth, depending on your need and the season.

A frost shelter over a fruit tree (from Grow Great Fruit members Clare and Win's garden)
A frost shelter over a fruit tree (from Grow Great Fruit members Clare and Win’s garden)

Frost cloth is a special, fine cloth that keeps the frost from settling on the ground. It’s great for protecting fruit trees, vegetables, or other precious crops.

Frost cloth is not very tough and it’s easy to work with. It’s even easy to sew with, as you can see in the photo below. This is the industrious Win (one of our Grow Great Fruit Home-study Program members) sewing the cloth to fit the frame.

Win sewing frost cloth to fit over the frame in the garden
Win sewing frost cloth to fit over the frame in the garden

You can avoid the expense of frost cloth by using old sheets. However, a word of warning if you’re using a heavier cover and it completely covers the tree to the ground. It’s best to put the cover on when a frost is forecast, and take it off again (or lift it up) mid-morning or when the frost has disappeared. This is because a sheet can weigh the tree down unnecessarily and prevent sunlight and bees from getting to the tree.

A bird netting enclosure can be re-purposed to provide frost shelter for your fruit trees
A bird netting enclosure can be re-purposed to provide frost shelter for your fruit trees

Frost shelter from microclimates

Another way to provide the protection your trees need is to use assets you already have in the garden. In other words, make the most of existing microclimates.

Water tanks, buildings, and sheds can help provide shelter. Tall trees can provide quite a wide frost shadow, as you can see in the photo below.

Microclimates created by big trees may be able to provide frost shelter for your fruit trees
Microclimates created by big trees may be able to provide frost shelter for your fruit trees

However, you may not notice these micro-climates unless you go looking for them. Next time you have a big frost, get out in the garden early and check out your garden carefully.

Look carefully around for the influence of buildings, sheds, fences, water tanks, and other physical assets. Also notice how vegetation like trees, grass, and veggie patches determine where the frost lands, and how it flows in your garden.

Other ways to provide shelter from frost

Other things you can do to protect your trees from frost include:

  • putting sprinklers on your trees
  • using frost fans
  • keeping your soil moist
  • keeping the ground cover plants under your trees short, and
  • refraining from using mulch, as it keeps the ground too cool.

Soil health helps with frost protection

Frost is definitely one of the factors you need to think about when planning your home orchard. That’s why we include it in our Home Orchard Design short course.

Interestingly, all the things we recommend for soil health such as increasing the amount of organic matter in your soil can also make your plants more resistant to frost.

This is for two reasons:

  1. Healthy soil leads to plants with higher Brix levels, which have a lower freezing point;
  2. Soil with higher organic matter levels holds more moisture, which makes the plants less vulnerable to freezing.