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Can Winter Kill Plants? How to Save Them?

Last year, I lost quite a few plants to cold damage; trust me, it was devastating as a plant lover.

But as we learn from our mistakes, I was prepared for this year’s winter, even if it came with all guns blazing. So, here is what I know.

Winter season can be harsh for some plants as they freeze their cells and kill their tissues. To save them, you can mulch around the plant, put them in greenhouses, cover them with frost blankets, etc.

trees in winter
You can prevent the winter damage beforehand if you are careful enough and if you take the correct measures.

Houseplants are less hardy, so they cannot tolerate frosts, and many can perform poorly if exposed to temperatures below 12°C (53.6°F).

So, you should not tread winter lightly as it is one of the leading reasons plants die yearly.

Read the article to find out if winter can kill plants and how to prevent that.

What is Winter Kill in Plants?

Although you may prefer winter over summer, which has harsh sun, plants beg to differ.

There are a lot of plants that can survive the harsh winter, but there are also some plants that cannot stand the frost at all.

Winter kill is the phenomenon that occurs in winter, in which a plant dies due to extreme cold and frost conditions.

Plants in winter
There are certain plants that can survive even the harshest conditions of winter.

If you do not cover the plants during harsh winter conditions, plants will succumb to the effects of cold.

Plants require water to revitalize their cells, but if the soil is frozen, that possibility goes out of the equation. So, the plants smolder, causing winter damage.

While deciduous plants can survive snowfall and winter damage, perennial plants are the ones that take the most damage.

The main sign of winter kill for turf plants is the remaining dried patches even in spring and, of course, their death.

Can the Cold Kill a Plant?

Whether cold and such climates can kill a plant or not is a vague question. It all depends on the plant type at the end.

Generally, plants that survive in lesser hardiness zones can survive the cold, while plants at higher hardiness zones quickly submit to cold damage.

To have a basic general idea, look at the table below.

Temperature WarningsAffect
Frost Advisory (32-36°F)Minimal effects to tender plants
Freeze Warning (below 32°F)Visible effects to tender plants
Light Freeze (29-32°F)Death of tender plants
Moderate Freeze (25-28°F)Destructive effects to most plants
Hard Freeze (below 25°F)Heavy damage and even death of most plants

Plants that are hardy in Zones 4 or less are more accustomed to cold weather and have a better chance at survival.

For example, plants like yarrow, shasta daisy, Bellflower, daylily, sedum, lead plant, Siberian iris, etc., can live happily in cold or frosty conditions.

Symptoms of Cold Damage in Plants

If your plants are exposed to too much cold, they will showcase the following symptoms.

  • Leaves exposed to too much cold will wilt and appear full of moisture.
  • Eventually, the leaves will turn black due to damaged tissues.
  • In trees, their bark will split in the base due to sudden changes in the temperature.
  • Newer growths will turn crispy starting from the edges.
  • The leaves will fall off, which will cause disbalance in the plant.
  • Desiccation will occur on the plant before it eventually dies.

Besides, boxwood damage is a condition that occurs in winter. In this condition, the leaves grow tan spots and brown and fickle borders, and the stems suddenly turn black.

If you are a fan of Rubber plants, you would want to protect them from harsh winter.

How to Treat Symptoms of Winter Kill?

Once the plants incur winter damage, it is nearly impossible to nurse them back to perfect health.

If the damage has not spread to plant parts, you may still have a fair shot at recovering the plant.

Winter damage in plants
Harsh winter can damage certain parts of the plant which causes certain patches to appear on the plant.

Recovering plants depends on their exposure time to the freezing cold.

Look below for the tips you need to follow to treat the symptoms of winter kill.

  • Move the plant to a place away from frosty and cold conditions as soon as possible.
  • If your plants are in the garden and cannot be moved, you can leave them to revitalize on their own.
  • Plants do not get moisture due to the freezing of cells. So, water your plant immediately to fulfill its moisture needs.
  • Cover the plants with frost blankets as soon as you see symptoms to avoid extra damage.
  • For potted plants, you can keep them on top of a heating pad to provide the required heat.
  • Do not fertilize the plants, or you will damage their tissues.
  • Prune the damaged and dead parts of the plant to avoid spreading.
  • Wait for 15 days to a month, and if the plant does not show any improvement, discard them altogether.

If your plant is hardy to cold weather, it may not show any of the damage symptoms. So, inquire about the nature of the plant beforehand.

How to Save Plants from Winter Kill?

It is always better to prevent any damage to your plant before it is too late.

Winter and frosts are two of the things that are nightmares for most indoor houseplants.

Follow the tips below to ensure you do not make your plant suffer its worst fate by incurring winter damage.

  • If you have placed your potted plants outdoors, bring them inside before heavy frost starts.
  • Mulch around the plant roots using organic materials.
  • You can also use a frost blanket before the plant has incurred damage to prevent it.
Frost blankets for Plants
Frost blankets are essential in protecting plants from winter damage.
  • Place a layer of straw or wooden chips on the plant soil to trap the soil heat inside.
  • Invest in mini-greenhouses or garden cloche or make one yourself to prevent serious damage to individual tender plants.
  • Do not let the plants dry out due to the lack of moisture, and water them frequently.
  • Ensure your plants are not in the path of cold breezes, especially at night.

Preventing the plants from winter damage is the best thing you can do for them as a plant parent.


‘Winter’ is a nightmarish word for your beloved houseplants. This season that comes every year is a battle for the plants.

It is completely up to you to assist the plants in this hard battle and be a good plant parent.

As it is approaching now, be on guard. Good luck!

Here is an article to read if you want to know about cold-hardy Zone 4 perennials.

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