It’s messed up.

You take care of your plants the best you can. You give them the needed nutrients, water, and care.

But a single, cold night can damage them due to cold shock.

Your plants can recover from cold shock as long as the exposure time to the cold is short. The recovery will also depend on how much damage the plant has faced due to the cold shock. Some plants are hardier and can recover better than other plants.

In this post, I’ll show you the symptoms of a cold shock so you can identify the damage. I’ll also give you solutions to recover the plant from cold shock and prevent the problem from happening again.

Let’s get started.

Can plants recover from cold shock?

Cold shock is when temperatures drop to freezing levels (32° F / 0° C), and water vapor condenses and freezes, forming frost. When the combination of cold winds and temperatures hits plants, the water inside their leaves freezes. This promotes cell damage and death, which consequently damages and kills the entire plant.

Though cold shock seems more of a threat to outdoor plants due to their vulnerability and exposure to the weather and its elements, indoor plants are at equal risk. Most indoor plants are tropical, making them extremely sensitive to temperatures under 50° F / 10° C. Many may die as soon as the temperature drops, but tropical plants generally die within 12 – 24 hours of exposure.

Although all the damage already done to a plant is permanent, this does not necessarily mean that the whole plant has to die. Depending on the plant’s condition, it may still recover and survive with the correct care.

Replanting into suitable soil or container media, cultivating the soil to encourage roots to grow, and providing adequate moisture are all strategies for reviving plants after cold shock. However, if plant tissue has been severely injured by subzero temperature, recovery is not always possible.If the plant appears to have died, go ahead and try to dig it up and replant it. – Susan Deguara, CEO, Hi Quality Turf

What are the symptoms of cold shock?

Knowing what to look for in your plants after cold weather helps you assess their condition and the extent of any damage the temperature and frost could have caused.

The symptoms you see and the severity may differ between plants depending on their specific vulnerabilities and how long they have been exposed.

Leaves are wilting and drooping

The damage and death of cells hinder the plant’s rigidity, causing leaves and stems to curl or droop.

There is discoloration on the leaves

You can see spots of dead cells as white, yellow, or red marks on leaves. Not all cells will immediately be affected; some damage may be delayed.

The foliage has turned soft or black

Cell death also manifests as parts of the plant turning black and softening. This is likely to occur in dire cases.

The root ball has turned loose

The state of a plant’s root ball directly indicates its health. Gently feel the root ball by moving the plant. If the root ball is very loose and moves easily, it is likely that the plant suffered severe damage and is in bad shape.

Much like human beings, your plants will show symptoms of getting a cold shock. Humans tend to shiver in the cold. Plants, however, shrivel.  Aside from curled or droopy leaves, you will see discoloration in the affected parts of the plants, such as the leaves, stems, and flowers. These spots indicate the ‘dead’ parts of the plants. – Owen Mosser, Gardening Expert, The Golden

How do you revive cold shocked plants?

Cold shock is not something plants can speedily recover from without enduring further damage and trauma. 

Constant care and patience are required for nursing a plant back to health from cold shock. The process will take weeks – or even months. You should tell if the plant’s condition is improving and protect it from further damage.

It is vital to continuously observe the plant’s condition during its recovery to ensure that the damage does not worsen or spread. The affected areas will be permanently damaged, so the goal is to protect the unaffected parts of the plant.

Routinely checking the condition of its root ball will be a reliable indicator of its health. Additionally, seeing any new growth on the plant suggests that the recovery is going well, and the plant is ready to repair the damage with fresh sprouts.

The following methods are the safest way for your plants to recover.

Gently watering the plant

It may not feel like enough, but gently watering your cold shocked plants is the best thing you can do for them. Pouring water over the plant as well as how you would normally do it will help its recovery.

When plants experience cold shock, they lose moisture, thus giving them an inch of water helps their re-hydration. The water will also combat frost.

t may seem bizarre but the best thing you can actually do in this situation is to water the plant. The water aids the recovery process, assisting the plant in healing from the stress and trauma of the cold shock. When a plant freezes the moisture is removed, so it is essential to replace this lost water. – Leslie Vincent, Horticulturalist & Gardening Expert, Atkins Garden Shop 

Move the plant to a better location

Moving your plants to a safer and warmer shelter should protect them from any further damage. However, if you move them, you must ensure that there is not too drastic of a change in temperature between their previous and new location; otherwise, it will shock them further.

Any changes should be slowly eased into. Moreover, you can group plants together to create a collective warmth and protection.

It will be tempting to take more drastic measures to speed up the plant’s recovery, but this will only harm the plant further. You should avoid supporting and stimulating new growth in an already damaged plant.

Avoid pruning the plant

Not only does this cause further trauma and stimulate new growth in the plant, but any dead or damaged leaves acting as extra layers of protection and insulation will be lost, exposing healthy areas to the cold temperatures. Wait for warmer weather before pruning the affected areas which haven’t fallen on their own.

Don’t fertilize the plant

Although fertilizer could give the plant a helpful nutrient boost, it will do more harm than good. It will promote new growth, dividing the plant’s energy from recovery and hindering its overall health. Once the plant has recovered, it will sprout new growth.

How do you prevent cold shock in plants?

It is always easier to prevent cold shock from affecting plants than to recover damaged plants. You can use the below tips to protect your plants from cold shock when expecting cold weather.

Cover the plants before the cold night

The best option is to cover the plants and protect them from the temporary change in weather. You can use cold frames, anti-transpirant sprays, or row covers to do so. If the plant is small, you could place an inverted bucket on top.

Just make sure the material is not touching the plant as it will then conduct the cold. You can place a heat source such as Christmas decoration lights inside the bucket to keep the plant warm.

Make sure to remove the cover in the morning, so the plant gets good aeration and sunlight.

Water the plants before the cold night

It’s best to water the plants before the cold weather because it will help insulate the foliage and roots.

Make sure to use water at room temperature and not cold otherwise, it will not serve any purpose.

Give the plant a good watering so the soil will retain moisture for the entire night, keeping the plant insulated and warm.

Make sure to water the foliage and the soil so that it is completely soaked with the water.

Move the plant to a warmer location

If you’re growing plants in containers, you can consider moving them to a location protected from the cold. If the plants are outdoors in the soil, you’ll need to dig them out and transplant them to a container.

You could move the plant indoors, to the basement, or the garage, where the temperature will be much warmer than outside.

You can even use supplemental heating to keep the plant warm after moving them to these locations.