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Tips On What To Do With Cold or Frozen Houseplants

Recently, we’ve received some questions on house plants which stayed outside in the cold and what to do? The questions go something like this!

Question: Ficus tree or Dragon Tree Dracaena got really cold when I forgot to bring the plant indoors. The leaves turned brown and now it’s losing all its leaves, is it dead? Can the houseplant be saved?”

Answer: Plants drop leaves for a reason, it could be protection, seasonal, or it’s flat out dying. Houseplants such as a Spathiphyllum (Peace Lily plant) may get some burned leaves depending on the length of time the plant was exposed to the extreme low temperature or cold frost. It may grow back. It may just take some time.

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When plants are exposed to ice cold temperatures and low freezing points, many times you’ll notice that the leaves are very dark and discolored. It may also show blackened tips such as the case with Dracaena Massangeana or oily leaves like on Aglaonemas.

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Unlike tundra trees or plants and ice flowers which can gather food and bloom fast once summer started, your houseplants may need to undergo a lengthy period of plant rescue. In the case of permafrost, no plants can penetrate the frozen soil surface therefore, only lichen, moss, and a few low shrub varieties can survive there.

What is happening with these plant leaves? Cell collapse.

Think of what happens when you get sunburned – skin begins to peel because the cells have been destroyed… Frozen plants shed their leaves.

There you are with a plant that has lost all of its leaves and the branches, canes or tips aren’t looking very good – what do you do?

  • First, be realistic – Does the plant affected by frost damage look too far gone?
  • Second – if you think you want to give it a try or a re-grow, it may be time to pull out the clippers or fully take the plant away from the frozen ground.

Check The Bark

Take a look at the bark like on a Ficus tree, is it black, shriveled or separated from the trunk? (it’s most likely beyond help) Don’t look just at the top but down at the base.

Scrap The Bark

Next start high and scrap the bark. If you find brown at all keep moving lower until you find green, believe me you’ll know when you find it.

When you find an area of green – cut off everything above it, on that stem or branch. When you get done going over this you may have a plant that stands a chance of coming back.

Remember, not only was the foliage, branches and stems exposed to the cold – so were the roots. No matter how hard you try the plant may not survive. The root damage may be so severe that you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

NO FERTILIZER

Now after you’ve performed all this surgery, don’t start pouring water and fertilizer on the plant. Maintain regular plant care with the exception of water and fertilizers. You’ll most likely need to reduce the quantity and frequency of watering.

I know many people can become attached to their plants and they want to try and do everything they can to recover their treasure. After most indoor house plants suffer exposure to extreme cold temperatures you’ll find it very difficult in regrowing the plant to it’s old stature – even under optimal growing conditions.

The quantity of effort you’ll put into saving plants that suffered extreme cold damage may be better suited to replacing and caring for a new ones – just my thoughts. But learn from this lesson. Keep houseplants indoors all year long.