Tips and Tricks to Protect Fruit Trees from Frost

Tips and Tricks to Protect Fruit Trees from Frost

Feb 23rd 2024

It takes 3 to 5 years for a fruit tree to grow large enough to produce delicious fruits. During all this time, it is exposed to many challenges, such as diseases, pests, natural damage, and weather conditions. Above all these conditions, a tree is the most vulnerable to freezing and frost damage.

Frost is a common occurrence between autumn and spring that can negatively affect a tree's growth and fruit production, especially during the harvest season. Even the most resilient trees and plants need proper protective measures from winter and cold temperatures.

Keep reading this blog If you want to know how to cover fruit trees during frost and safeguard them from damage in the long run.

Understanding Frost Damage: Why Does It Happen?

Tree frost damage occurs when cold temperature turns the water inside the plant cells into ice, which expands and damages the cell walls and tissues of plants or fruit trees. Frost damage occurs in plants when:

  • Temperature: Once the temperature drops below 0ºC (32ºF), frost happens. The damage depends on how long your fruit trees are exposed to the cold weather without any protection.
  • Moisture:It can also occur when the air is warmer than 32ºF, but the temperature of plant tissues goes below 32ºF, or it loses its heat into the atmosphere, especially on cool, clear nights.
  • Wind:Wind frosts can damage your fruit trees when cold. It is less likely to happen and only affects hilltop gardens. 
  • Location:If trees are planted in low-lying areas with poor drainage, cold air tends to settle in these areas.

Importance of Frost Protection in Fruit Trees

Before exploring how to protect fruit trees from frost, we will first understand why frost is so damaging to them and its impact on fruit production.

Fruit trees like apples, pears, plums, cherries, and apricots are resilient when dealing with windy, dry, or cold weather. But they're not unbeatable. In the winter, these trees go into a deep sleep called dormancy. It means they don't have any leaves on their branches, and their sprouts are tightly shut to keep warm and survive the cold.

During the spring, days get warmer, and buds open, little leaves and flowers are exposed to frost, which can damage them in numerous ways.

Symptoms of Frosting in Fruit Trees

You cannot immediately notice the frost damage symptoms on fruit trees as frozen tissues take several hours or days to thaw. However, some common symptoms of frost damage are:

  • Discolored leaves and stems
  • Soft and mushy tissues upon touching
  • Brown and black patches on fruits, leaves, and flowers
  • Loss of leaves
  • Split barks on the stems and trunks of trees

Frost can also damage crops, reduce yields, affect production quality, and sometimes cause a complete crop failure.

Effects of Frosting on Fruit Production

How much frosting can damage your fruit trees depends upon the type of fruit, bud maturity, and how long it has been exposed to the cold temperature. Apple, pears, and peaches can lose up to 90% of their flower buds without reducing the harvest.

Cherries can have a complete harvest after 50% bud damage. You can see a detailed chart about the temperature tolerance of different fruit trees developed by Michigan State University.

How to Protect Your Fruit Trees from Frosting

There are two different methods of protecting fruit trees from frosting damage, i.e., passive, and active methods. We will discuss how both effectively shield trees from frost. 

Passive Methods of Frost Protection

Passive methods are long-term or advanced methods to increase the resilience and tolerance of trees towards frost and cold temperatures. These methods include site selection, regular watering, and use of mulch.

Site Selection

Before you plant a new orchard, select a site that has proper cold air drainage and a waterbody nearby. Select the downwind side of a hill or low spots which are sheltered from the wind.

Regular Watering

Regular watering is an excellent way to protect trees from frost. The moist soil absorbs more solar heat and maintains warmth during the night when the temperature is low. The water also traps the heat and acts as an insulator around the roots, protecting them from chilly weather. Use drip irrigation to provide a slow and steady source of water to your trees.

Applying Mulch

Mulch is a material applied to the surface of soil to retain moisture and fertility. Clean up the space around the fruit trees and apply three inches of mulch as a layer of insulation. This will prevent the loss of moisture and protect them from frost damage.

Active Methods of Frost Protection

These direct and immediate interventions directly intervene during frost to raise the temperature around trees and create a physical barrier around them. The most used method is using row or frost protection covers, burlap, or tarps.

Using Frost protection Covers

Row or frost protection covers are lightweight and absorbent fabrics that act as a physical barrier between the fruit trees and external weather. These covers are usually made of polypropylene or polyester materials. They are placed directly over plants and trees and supported by wire hoops, allowing sunlight, air, and water to reach the plants.

Types of Frost Protection Covers

Frost protection or row covers are available in different lengths, weights, and thicknesses according to the client’s requirements, such as:

  • Lightweight ( 0.5 oz/sq. yd): These covers shield trees and plants from cold, wind, and frost during the spring and autumn seasons. With 85% light transparency and 0 to 4 ºF frost protection, these covers can be easily used on fruit trees, shrubs, plants, and garden beds.
  • Medium Weight ( 1.1 oz/sq. yd): Medium Weight covers are the best way to prolong the growing season in spring and autumn. These covers provide 70% light transparency and 4 to 6 ºF frost protection and can be used on nurseries, berries, and bedding plants.

Advantages of Using Frost Protection Covers

1. Barrier

Frost protection covers act as an effective barrier between the external climate and the tree. They can trap the heat radiating from the soil and create a microclimate around the tree, protecting it from frost.

2. Versatile and Scalable

Frost covers are available in numerous sizes and can be used in different stages of growth and dormancy periods.

3. Lightweight and Reusable

These covers are made of lightweight and breathable materials that can be easily put on, removed, and stored for later use.

4. Animal Protection

Frost protection covers can actively deter animals like deer, rabbits, and squirrels from reaching the fruits.

Cons of Using Frost Protection Covers

1. Ventilation

Frost protection needs to have proper ventilation to prevent excess heat and moisture buildup from harming the trees.

2. Bird Damage

These covers are made of lightweight fabrics and are, therefore, prone to bird pecks and damage.

3. Tall Trees

Covering large and mature trees with frost covers could be a challenging and labor-intensive task.


Frost is a common atmospheric occurrence that can affect the growth and yield of your fruit trees. Understanding the severity of frost damage and using adequate, active, and passive protection measures such as site selection, watering, fertilizers, and row covers can protect your garden from extreme climatic conditions.

However, it is also important to choose the appropriate size and thickness according to your orchard so it can give you maximum protection and ensure that you can enjoy your favorite fruits throughout the year.

Are you thinking of wrapping your fruit trees for the winter? DripWorks offers the best quality row covers according to your budget. Whether you are looking for light or medium weight, we have you covered! Visit our website for more information.