Horticultural fleece: what is it and how does it protect plants? 

Horticultural fleece - also known as garden fleece - is an insulating material used to cover plants, shrubs, trees and crops through late autumn, winter and spring. 
The primary purpose of plant fleece is as frost protection for plants and for any shrubs, trees and crops vulnerable to cold weather damage.  
However, plant protection fleece and winter plant covers also provide a handy protective barrier from birds, squirrels, rabbits and other garden wildlife, as well as allowing you to pre-warm soil for early planting of crops.  

What are the advantages of horticultural fleece? 

The main advantages of plant protection fleece over other materials are its flexibility and breathability.  
Fleece is a soft, pliable material that can be easily worked over a plant, wrapped around a tree trunk or placed on top of a vegetable patch. 
Horticultural fleece also allows air to flow and light to penetrate, helping to keep your plants healthy throughout the colder months of the year. 

What is the best weight or thickness for garden fleece? 

The insulating capacity of garden fleece is measured in grams per square metre (GSM). The higher the GSM the "warmer" the fleece and the more frost protection for plants it offers. 
Most plant protection fleece is around 30GSM, which protects to approximately -4c. However, heavy duty frost fleece of 50GSM or higher offers greater cold weather protection to approximately -8c. 
Some fleece jackets are between 80-100GSM, though these are only needed for more extreme temperatures and have to be used carefully, as the thickness means less light, moisture and air reaches the plant. 

How to protect pot plants from frost? 

Pot plant containers can be wrapped in horticultural fleece for insulation, with the option of a layer of straw or bubble wrap between the pot and the fleece for particularly vulnerable plants. Alternatively, the containers can be buried in the ground up to their rims. 
For best results, ensure that your container is made from a frost-proof material such as plastic, fibreglass or glazed ceramic and has good drainage holes. 
The pot plants themselves can then be covered with a plant fleece jacket, which has the advantage of being the right shape and usually comes with a zip or drawstring to ensure a snug and fully insulated fit. 
All that's left to do is measure the size of the plant so that you can choose the best size of winter fleece jacket for your needs. 

How to protect tropical plants and tender shrubs from frost? 

Tropical plants such as tree ferns, cordylines, banana plants and palm trees are at increased risk of frost damage, along with Mediterranean plants such as figs and citrus trees. 
Where possible, move these plants indoors or to a shelted garden location such as a shed, polytunnel or well-insulated fruit cage. 
If leaving outdoors, wrap shrubs in a fleece jacket packed with straw to protect them, as well as wrapping fleece around the trunk. 
Make sure to remove these protective plant fleece covers if extended periods of mild weather are forecast, as there is a risk of rot. These can then be re-covered once the weather becomes cold again. 

What's the best frost cover for allotment raised beds & veg patches? 

A frost blanket (sometimes called a plant blanket) is usually the best type of garden fleece to cover groups of plants in a vegetable patch or raised bed.  
Frost blankets are usually available either in pre-cut sizes or offered on a garden fleece roll which can then be cut according to requirements. 
To use your plant blanket, simply drape over your vegetable patch or raised bed and secure with fleece pins, pegs or string. 
It's a good idea to remove your fleece as soon as weather conditions improve to get a bit more winter light to plants and to check for pests. When the weather gets colder, reattach your frost blanket as above. 

Can I reuse garden fleece? 

Yes! Good quality heavy duty garden fleece should last for 1-2 years at least as it is both rot-proof and washable. However, care needs to be taken to get the most out of your hoticultural fleece. 
If needing a clean, hand wash or machine wash your plant fleece on the gentlest cycle before allowing to dry completely. 
Although UV protected, garden fleece is designed to be used in late Autumn through to early spring when sunlight is less frequent and less intense.  
As such, it's best to remove fleece in late spring and summer (once the nights are warm enough) and store somewhere dry and out of direct sunlight such as a shed or garage. 
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