How to Save a Frozen Plant


There are many variables involved when you find yourself needing to save a frozen plant. Is your frozen plant in a pot or planted in the ground? Is the affected plant your favorite flowering shrub, a houseplant or is it a tropical plant? Each will need a different method to hopefully save your frozen plant.

How to Save Frozen Landscape Plants

So, what should you do if you wake up one morning only to see your plants are covered with a layer of frost or ice? First, don’t panic. Check the weather forecast for your area. Was this a one-night event or is the temperature expected to drop for the next few nights? What you don’t want is for the damaged plants to incur even more harm. 

If the weather is going to continue to be below freezing for successive nights, it is time to take quick action to protect the vulnerable plants. Cover them with a frost cloth or even an old sheet. A bucket turned over smaller plants like sweet-scented miniature roses will protect them from the cold. Once the cold is over, water your plants with an inch of water to help rehydrate and start the healing process. 

Water is pulled from the cells when it freezes and your plants need water to help recover. You may be tempted to fertilize your plant, but hold off for a while. What you don’t want is to stimulate new growth when your plant is trying to recover from the damage incurred by the freeze. Have patience and do not remove any leaves or prune branches during this time. 

icy red barberry leaves

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Let the plant recover and heal itself. Dead leaves will fall off themselves and pruning at this time can stress your plant even more. After it warms up again, you can check if the plant’s woody branches have survived by making a small light scratch through the bark. If the scratch shows green, the branch has survived. If there is no green layer and no new buds forming, that part of the branch is probably dead and should be trimmed in the spring. 

How to Save Frozen Potted Plants

If you have potted plants affected by a freeze, bring them indoors to recover. Do not put them in full sunlight but rather keep them in a cool room or even the garage. Moving a plant from 40-degree temperatures to the indoors with a 30-degree increase in temperature can also shock your plants. You want them to have the opportunity to heal and rest. 

Water regularly and give your plant time to recover. Trim any mushy stems and, otherwise, be patient and give your plant time to heal itself. Sometimes, only the roots survive so the first sign of life will be new shoots growing from the pot.

Preventing Your Plants from Freezing

Of course, prevention is the best way to deal with frozen plants. Take precautions before the temperatures plummet to protect your vulnerable outdoor plants like miniature roses and other flowering shrubs. Adding mulch and wrapping your vulnerable shrubs for the winter may help them to survive. 

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If you are dealing with an unusual short-term drop in temperatures, covering with frost cloth can keep the temperature 10 degrees warmer than the outside temperature. That can be enough to save your plants during an unusually cold couple of days. 

woman gardeners hands


When selecting plants for your landscape, be very aware of the grow zone for which each plant is hardy. If you live on the border of two zones, the safest choice is the colder zone.  If you choose to plant a shrub for the lower zone, try to give it a more sheltered location and be prepared to give it some extra protection every year before the winter arrives. 

Even better would be to choose native plants to your area for most of your plantings. These plants are accustomed to your area’s temperature fluctuations and have a much better chance of survival when exposed to a frost or even light freeze.

Further north, the temperatures will be below freezing for several months. Your outdoor plantings should only include cold hardy plants rated for your growing zone. If you really can’t resist the beauty of a tropical hibiscus or camellia, keep it in a pot so you can bring it indoors during the winter.

With a little extra care — and by using the tips and techniques described in this article — it is possible to prevent your plants from freezing and save them if they do.