It's important to take them off of your plants before the last frost of the season.
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outdoor plants protected in burlap during winter
Credit: yulyao / Getty Images

Spring will be here before you know it, which means it's time to start thinking about how to transition your plants out of winter mode and get them ready for the warmer, sunnier days. Start this process by removing the burlap, wire, and other materials you employed to get your flowers and shrubs through the cold weather. But when, exactly, is the right time to do so?

Try to clear beds before the last frost of the season.

"The best time to remove a new plant or tree's winter protection is right before the last frost," says Nikki Bruner of Perfect Plants Nursery, a family owned and operated plant nursery based in North Florida. "This will, of course, depend on your location and weather patterns. It usually happens sometime in mid-March for the southern United States—but can be closer to April or May if you live further north." If you're not sure when frosts typically end in your area, "look up your last frost date on Google for a good reference," advises Bruner.

However, it's important to keep in mind that the date of the last frost can "vary year to year based on the weather," continues Bruner, so you shouldn't rely solely on last year's data to determine the right timing for the season ahead. Your current weather—are you trending hot or cold?—is one of the best predictors. Ideally, the right time to clear your beds is when "average temperatures in your area have stayed consistently above 50 degrees for several weeks," notes Stephen Webb, the founder of gardening website Garden's Whisper. And if you get warmer weather earlier than expected? Get those materials away from your plants. "In general, once temperatures rise above 60 degrees, it's best to uncover beds to allow your plants to breathe," says Daniel McCurry of the Alabama-based landscape design, construction, and consulting firm Father Nature Landscapes.

Plants need some time to re-acclimate.

There are several reasons why this particular time of year—before the last frost and when temperatures start to rise—is the ideal time to remove the materials you use to overwinter your plants. "You want to do this promptly before the last frost so the plant can begin acclimating back to its natural climate," says Bruner. "If it is a deciduous plant, new leaves will begin to flush out and it will prepare for a season of growth." Plus, leaving overwintering materials on your plants for too long can put them at risk. "The leaves on the plant can start to compost themselves and molt," says McCurry. "It also weakens the plants and makes them more vulnerable to insect damage." Adds Bruner, "If you wait too long, it could kill the plant or tree."

Remove coverings with care.

Now that you know when to remove overwintering materials, it's important to understand how to do so sans damage. "Gently shake off the covering, taking care not to damage any emerging plant growth. Then, remove any garden debris that has accumulated underneath the covering," says Webb. "Apply compost and water your newly uncovered soil, giving it a little extra care." And if you want to reuse some of your overwintering materials for the next chilly season? Just make sure to clean them well. That way, you can "make sure you aren't passing disease from one year to the next," says McCurry.

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