Freezing weather is coming, and soon, we will wake up to find our plants and trees covered in ice. Seeing your flourishing plants like this can be upsetting, especially if you're unsure how to prepare your plants for a freeze and how to care for them after a hard freeze. Preparing your garden for freezing weather in the fall is the most important chore.
Keeping your plants happy and healthy all year long helps reduce winter damage. Remember that newly planted trees and shrubs are more susceptible to freeze damage than older plants with established roots. Also, pot plants are more prone to damage than those planted in the ground. Thankfully, there are things you can do to help them recover from freeze damage, which we will discuss in this guide.
What is Freeze Damage
The freeze damage effects differ depending on the plant's variety and level of exposure. You have to assess your plants individually. Sometimes, the damage is minor only to leaves with discoloration and cold-burned leaf tips. However, freeze damage to plants also emerges in roots or crown structures. This is the hardest damage to recover from.
The damage occurs from the freezing of cells inside plant parts, which results in a cellular shift that changes the plant tissue permanently. Moving water out of cells is one of the ways plants defend themselves to protect against frozen crystals in tiny membranes that can damage the cell parts. This response prevents plants from absorbing moisture and causes freeze damage, which seems plants have gone too long without water.
How to Prepare Your Plants for a Freeze
First, pay attention to tropical and subtropical plants with sensitive herbaceous foliage when preparing plants for freezing weather. They will be more vulnerable to damage. If possible, it is best to move them indoors when a freeze warning is issued. One option is to move them under a patio and completely cover them with plastic or row covers. It helps retain heat under the cover and prevents frost from developing on the leaves. Additionally, leave the lights on to help produce a minimal amount of heat.
Furthermore, you should water your plants, particularly container plants, during the freeze. Wet soil is warmer than dry soil because water acts as an insulator. It might come as a surprise, but plants and trees need to be watered, especially if they suffer from a cold shock. Adequate water will help them recover from the stress put on them by freezing weather.
Also, mulching landscape plants in fall and winter is the best practice to help insulate the plant's roots. Apply mulch made of straw or pine loosely around the plant's base.
What to do After a Freeze with Your Plants
The amount of freeze damage depends on the length and severity of freezing temperatures. Many plants exhibit signs of damage but do not always look the same. In general, freeze damage makes plant components look dark and wet. The dark color of plant material changes to brown and then dries.
So, what should you do with your plants after freezing? First, you should be patient. Next, here are some crucial expert tips to follow after a freeze that will help you recover your plants from cold damage.
Assess freeze damage in your plants.
If plants are covered, take off the row covers on warm/sunny days, but keep them nearby. It is going to freeze several times over the winter. Take regular weather updates from news or weather apps. If the weather is expected to warm up during the next few days, you can move the plants back outside. They will require a lot of sunlight for photosynthesis and health.
Afterward, wait a few days after a freeze to assess the plant's damage. Assess it by gently scraping back the bark of a branch using a knife or fingernail. Look for healthy plant tissue, which should be light cream to green in color. It is essential to keep a close eye when assessing freeze damage to plants. If you do not examine things carefully, you can miss the delicate new shoots. Let your native and perennial plants grow for you and see how they do.
Do not pull out cold-damaged plants quickly.
Patience, Patience! Even if you want to cut off any gloomy-looking plant, hold off until spring to assess first and then see the full extent of the damage. If the weather stays warm, native plants might begin to produce new growth in the next few weeks. Plants that thrive in hot weather will take longer to spread from their roots. If you have your plants in your garden, wait for them to come back.
Do not prune freeze-damaged plants right away.
Resist grabbing the pruners and cutting back everything right away. We understand that freeze-damaged plants look unpleasant, but if you can stand it for a little bit longer, it can also protect other parts of the plant. The dead foliage may look bad, but it helps insulate plants from further damage.
Plants take multiple days to show the level of damage after snow and ice melt. However, if there is any slimy or mushy plant material, remove it to avoid fungal infection or diseases. You can remove the dead material to clean things. Moreover, it is best to wait until spring for woody plants.
Wait until spring to fertilize.
While you might be tempted to fertilize plants to push new growth and speed their recovery, hold off. First, ensure we are out of the woods with the freezing. Fertilizing too early can risk promoting new growth before the cold weather ends. It is advised to wait until spring. Once the frost danger has passed, fertilizer application can help speed recovery.
Water the Plants in a moderate amount.
Unlike fertilizing and pruning, watering can help plants recover from freezing damage. Check the soil around the plants after a freeze. If the soil is dry and water is frozen, it means plants are not getting enough water they need. So, water the plants normally by using an efficient irrigation system like drip irrigation.
Watering the plant area can provide moisture and help thaw the soil. Water is essential even for injured plants. However, it is not a good idea to dump a ton of water on your cold-damaged plants. There is no need to overwater; just follow a regular water schedule.
The Bottom Line
After a freeze, it is crucial to treat your plants and trees with the utmost care. Caring for plants during freezing weather is a task that is also good for your physical health. With proper care, tropical and subtropical plants can be kept alive year-round. If your plants were severely damaged by ice, you need to take more radical measures to help them recover.
To learn more about protecting your plants in winter and winter garden ideas, explore our blog.
If you need help with an irrigation system for your winter garden, contact DripWorks experts at 1-800-522-3747 Mon-Fri and enjoy specialized advice.