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Can Houseplants Recover From Cold Damage?

Not all house plants are cold-hardy. Many people often move their houseplants outside for a breath of fresh air and sufficient sunlight during the winter. That is when they commit the mistake.

Indoor plant species are susceptible to cold drafts, and such cold damage can be detrimental to their health.

But what if your houseplants have already suffered cold damage? Can houseplants recover from cold damage? Let’s find out.

In general, a cold-damaged houseplant will regain its strength if they get favorable conditions to revive but, many fails to survive. Cold weather often freezes the water in cell tissues causing permanent damage. To revive them, water the plant thoroughly and increase the humidity around them.

Most houseplants are tropical or subtropical species that thrive in temperatures above 50-55°F with a 50-60% humidity in the air. Since most houseplants prefer a warm climate, they enter a state of dormancy during the winter months.

Too cold living conditions can permanently damage the plant’s foliage making it difficult to revive.

We will discuss the effects of cold and how you can revive an indoor plant that has been affected by the freeze in this article. You will also find information about how to prevent your indoor plant from freezing.

Indoor plant cold damage
Indoor plant cold damage


Cold damage on houseplants

Indoor plants are great victims of cold and frost. Extreme frost can kill houseplants if the exposure is prolonged.

  • Cold drafts during the wintertime are a proficient causative agent, causing damage to plant cells.
  • The moisture content remains relatively low during winter, which increases the rate of transpiration in plants. Water is drawn out of the leaves, leaving them wilted, drooping.
  • As extreme cold partially or wholly damages the plant tissues, the leaves appear pale and feeble.
  • Most of the enzymes in a plant’s body act appropriately at a moderate temperature. A sudden drop in temperature makes these organic catalysts inactive, hence inhibiting most of the physiological functions. This stunts the growth of the plant.
  • Plant growth factors like Auxin, Gibberellin hormones become inactive in freezing temperatures.

Signs of cold damage on plants

The symptoms of a cold-weather shocked plant are not that hard to spot and are easily detected. Common symptoms include discoloration and drooping of the leaves.

Droopy or curling leaves: Extreme cold causes cell damage, and due to this, the plant loses its rigidity, causing the leaves to droop or curl from the edges.

Discoloration on the leaves: You may notice red, yellow, or white marks near the veins of the leaves. These are the areas affected by cold, and the cells get completely damaged in those parts. Not all plant cells get affected at once. The damage may be partial. But eventually, the leaves die and fall off.

Dry leaves: The cold draft is responsible for complete cell damage, especially in the leaves. Unable to carry on photosynthesis, these damaged leaves dry out completely.

Leaf dieback: Longer periods of frost or cold causes dieback of the leaves. Large portions of the leaves become brown and shrivel as they become dehydrated due to low humidity. These leaves are at greater risk of infection from fungal spores, bacterial infestation, and diseases. 

Dead branches: This is a sign of severe damage. Like dead leaves, dead branches too can provide passage to fungus and other diseases causing agents to invade healthy tissues. That is why pruning is necessary just after the onset of spring. 

Stunted growth: Winter is the dormant season for most plant species. Hence their growth during this time remains on a limited scale. However, if plants are exposed to extreme cold, it can significantly hamper their growth, and you may be left with a dead plant at the end of the season. 

How do you revive a frozen houseplant?

Most tropical houseplants are sensitive to temperatures below 50°F. Some plants start losing their rigidity and die seconds after being exposed to a cold draft. However, other species are capable of regenerating if taken in instant care.

In cases where the plants are shocked due to frost or cold, they have healthy roots below the soil, though they become frozen at the top.

If you doubt your plant’s survival, the first thing you need to do is check the roots. If they are firm and white, you are lucky. 

But if they appear mushy, then the potential rate of survival is relatively low. The roots might also be somewhere in between these states. In that case, you can take a chance to revive your plant by following these essential tips.

Get the plant to a warmer temperature.

Bring the plant to a warmer spot as soon as you notice any significant effect of cold in your plant. Don’t go about trimming off the damaged foliage – concentrate on providing a comfortable warmth to your plant.

It will help the plant regain its lost strength by reviving the paused or slowed down physiological functions.

However, don’t try to accelerate the process of warming your plant by placing it near a radiator or any other heating equipment. You may end up having a dead plant with burnt foliage. 

Let your plant recover naturally.



Water right away

Provide your plant moisture by pouring a small amount of water into the soil. Let the water drain out completely.

Freezing temperature with low humidity sucks water from the leaves. You must water the plant to hydrate and bring it back to its stable state.

Skip fertilizer

Never apply fertilization to a plant that is frozen or shocked due to the cold. 

Applying such components increases the risk of damage, especially during the recovery phase. Let your plant get accustomed to the changed atmosphere and become stable naturally. 

Prune the dead foliage

Dead or damaged foliage is the most susceptible spot for any fungal or bacterial infection. You must prune the dead foliage, blossoms, or branches to prevent any such occurrence.

But remember not to prune your plant during the recovery phase as the plant is in a state of shock. Leave the plant in the warm spot at least for a month before going for the trimming process.

The best time of pruning your indoor plant is after the recovery phase, after the onset of the growing season.

A valid factor in the chance of survival is how long the plant was exposed to freezing temperatures. A few hours of extreme cold can cause enough harm, depending on the plant.

Generally, it takes 12 to 24 hours of exposure to a cold climate to completely shut down the growth of tropical plant species and kill them. 

Aftercare

The cold-damaged plant may take a while to bounce back to its previous state after pruning. While fast-growing house plants only take a few months to recover, slow-growing species can take a year or more to regain their strength. 

It should recover as long as it receives all the necessary factors like water, sunlight, humidity, and appropriate fertilization.

How to protect your indoor plant from the freezing weather?

Most of the houseplants being tropical are extremely sensitive to cold temperatures. Even a moderate to a slight drop in temperature can cause severe complications.

Adapting proper preventive measures is the best way to avoid any such problems. Here are a few basic tips that you need to follow:

Light

Sunlight is an essential part of a plant’s growth as it is the primary source of energy for the plants to carry out photosynthesis. The short and dark winter days that can drag us down can also doom the plants. 

Without proper sunlight, plants can experience stunted growth or worse conditions leading to death. To avoid this, place all your houseplants near windows that receive the most sunlight during the daytime. 

For more light-averse plants, south or west-facing windows that allow weak rays of the sun typically do the job. Additionally, consider installing a grow light, which can boost the amount of growing light for the plant.

Either of these ways is a proficient step to protect your plant’s health during the winter.

Also read: How To Use Grow Lights For Indoor Plants? (A Complete Guide)

Water

Indoor plants require less water during the winter season as the plants go into a dormant state and show a slower growth rate. 

A little water is required to keep the plants hydrated. Overdoing the watering will leave the plant with soggy soil, leading to serious health issues like root rot.

The best way is to reduce the watering frequency to half of the regularly scheduled routine of the growing season. And always check the soil condition before applying water. 

Also read: How Often Should You Water Indoor Plants? (Indoor Plants Watering Guide)

Humidity

Winter is considered a dry season for its how humidity. Exposure to this cold, dry climate for long can drive out moisture from your plants’ leaves, making them feeble, droopy, and pale.

To avoid this:

  • Try to maintain 40-50% humidity for tropical plant species. 
  • Never keep your plants on an open windowpane. Try to choose a spot at least 2-3 feet away from the window to protect them from dry winds.
  • Misting is quite helpful to provide moisture to your plants, especially during winter. Use a spraying bottle for this purpose and mist your plants once a week.
  • Additionally, you can go for a budget-friendly humidifier to maintain constant humidity in your room and place the humidifier near the plants.
  • Group your plants during winter. This will allow a free exchange of moisture between them through transpiration.
  • You can increase the humidity even more by installing a saucer of water at the center of the cluster. The evaporating water vapor will make the air humid.

Temperature

Maintaining a constant room temperature is the best way to prevent cold shock. Most indoor plants are comfortable in temperatures between 55-75°F.

If you reside in a freezing zone, try to keep your plants in a well-insulated room. Frequent fluctuation of temperature is harmful to plants. Try to maintain a constant temperature.

Avoid placing them near open windows, equally avoid keeping them near any heating sources like heater, oven, or radiator. 

Fertilization

Since your indoor plants merely grow during winter, they don’t need food supplements like fertilizers during this time. Applying too much fertilizer will upset their natural growth cycle by putting nutrient stress over them. 

Hold off fertilization till spring. When you start witnessing new growth in your plant, resume the fertilization process.

Adapting these minor changes in the care routine of your indoor plants is a great way to deal with the winter harm and to ensure that your indoor plants are happy and healthy. 

Also read: How Often Do You Fertilize Indoor Plants? (When+What To Use)



Final words

In most instances, people are seen to ask if their cold-shocked plant would ever recover. Well, it depends entirely on the plant species and the time of exposure. If kept in the cold for a prolonged period, there is a minimum chance of its recovery. 

You need to check for the signs and degree of damage your plants have undergone due to cold. Depending on that, each plant species has a different survival rate. Not every plant can withstand cold stress.

People dealing with frost issues can go through this process. If the frost is light, spray your plants with an anti-transpirant. Spraying tender plants gently with water washes off the ice crystals.

For harder frosts, you must cover plants to prevent any injury.

Never let the ice melt under sunlight, as it will cause irreversible tissue damage. The plant can survive, but it will be left with deformed or spotted leaves. 

The general rule of thumb of maintaining a comfortable temperature for your indoor plants and avoiding cold damage is to keep the room temperature above 40°F. Seedlings generally freeze when the temperature drops to 32-34°F.

Cold and frost are genuine issues for indoor plants. People staying in cold climatic zones might be pretty much aware of these issues. However, adjusting a few factors may solve these complications. 

After all, houseplants are one of those valuable assets of your house that can add color and charm even during the greyest time of the year. 

Once you get accustomed and aware of the problems that can arise due to the low temperatures and freeze, you will learn how to take care of your indoor plants during these challenging times.

All you need is to take care of your plants, and in return, they will take care of you.


Ref: The Mississippi State University Extension Service, The plant doctor, University of Florida.