How to Revive Plants From Cold Damage - Backyard Boss
We are reader supported. External links may earn us a commission.

How to Revive Plants From Cold Damage

With the winter weather afoot, your plants are at risk for cold damage. And if you left any tropical or sensitive plants out in the cold the past few months, you might have noticed a few signs of declining health. While it is a common mistake to expose plants to cold when they aren’t winter-hardy, there are several steps you can take to bring them back from the brink.

Below you will learn how to spot signs of cold damage and revive your plants, so they don’t get lost to a freeze. Plus, you will find out how to protect your plants from the cold to ensure the same mistake doesn’t happen again!

Signs of Cold Damage

Young adult woman hand showing dry black currant leaves. Weather change effect. Damaged bush. Garden problem. Closeup.
Image credits: FotoDuets via Shutterstock

While you may have left sensitive plant outdoors during the cold season, cold damage may not always be the problem. Your plant could be suffering from disease, pests, or overwatering. Fortunately, there are a few ways to tell if cold damage is the culprit of your plant’s decline.

If your plant was outside in unsuitable temperatures or left near a drafty window, it still might be fine. However, if you notice wilting or drooping leaves, brown or black spots on the foliage, and splits into stems or trunks, these are the signs of cold damage. In this case, taking the right steps to reverse cold damage is crucial. 

Some varieties are harder to bring back from cold injury than others. Plants susceptible to frost include cacti, succulents, and begonia. By the same token, the level of damage may mean your plant won’t come back, but it is always worth a try.

Tools You’ll Need

Gardening tools in the basket
Image credits: By jeffwasserman via Canva

Are you ready to save some plants! You’ll need to gather a few different tools to make it happen.

  • Warm location indoors
  • Watering can
  • Clean water
  • Gardening gloves
  • Disinfected pruning shears

How to Revive Plants From Cold Damage

Now that you know how to identify cold damage and have the right tools under your belt, learn the step-by-step directions to bring your plant back to life.

Step 1: Move the Plant Indoors and Water

Young aloe plant with green leaves in flower pots. House plant in woman's hands. Putting on windowsill
Image credits: Sunny_Smile via Shutterstock

If you can, bring all potted plants indoors. Otherwise, move them to a warmer location, like your garage or greenhouse. Don’t place them near a heat source, such as a fireplace or radiator, or in direct sun for 48 hours. While this may seem like a good idea to “warm the plants up,” it will likely just shock them and make recovery difficult.

Too much light and high temperatures can cause water loss through transpiration, dehydrating the plants and disrupting their ability to absorb water. If your plants are in the ground, you can still take preventative measures to protect them from the cold such as mulching or covering them in burlap.

You should also immediately water the plants you bring indoors to hydrate them. A frost can suck moisture from the leaves, resulting in an under-watered plant. Wait until the cold passes to water your outdoor plants.

Step 2: Be Patient Before Pruning

Houseplants diseases. Indoor plants Diseases Disorders Identification and Treatment, Houseplants sun burn. Female hands cutting Damaged Leaves Selective focus
Image credits: Iryna Imago via Shutterstock

While you may feel tempted to remove all the dead foliage right away, it is best to leave it and wait. Of course, you can clear branches or leaves that have fallen off already.

If you prune damaged tissue while your plants are still outdoors, you expose the delicate, healthy parts to cold. Instead, Allow your plants several months to recover, or wait until spring when the weather warms up. Then, you can use a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears and carefully snip away all dead parts.

Step 3: Avoid Fertilizing

Woman pouring liquid fertilizer
Image credits: New Africa via Shutterstock

If you want your plant to recover, patience is key. Cold damage causes stress, and the plant requires time to heal and regrow. Fertilizing too soon can force the plant to focus on producing new shoots, meaning the foliage and stems won’t have the right amount of nutrients, time, or energy to properly recover.

Also, if your plant is still outside, the new growth may be damaged by the cool temperatures. Only begin fertilizing once you have pruned away the dead foliage and the plant is looking healthy again.

If the plant doesn’t begin growing again in spring, check the roots for rot. If they are brown and mushy, you can remove the dead roots, and replant what you can salvage. If possible you can also snip a few healthy leaves and propagate the plant.

Preventing Cold Damage in the Future

Winter plant
Image credits: Brett Sultemeier via Canva

Seedlings and immature plants are the most susceptible to cold damage, so they should always be at the top of your list to bring indoors or store in protective cold frames. When overwintering plants, you have the option to build a cold frame or support system to hold up protective tarps. This way, heavy snow, and ice won’t crush your precious plants.

Also, make sure the plants are as close to the ground as possible, and top the soil with mulch to provide insulation and warmth. Use soft, breathable fabrics, such as sheets, towels, or burlap, to protect your plants from winter wind and snow. Don’t forget to water your plants before a frost to provide warmth and insulation.

If you often forget about protecting plants or bringing them indoors, look for winter-hardy plants instead. Root vegetablescolorful berry bushes, and flowering perennials will survive cooler temperatures. Always do your research to ensure the plants you pick will survive in your zone!

Bring ’em Back!

Whether an unexpected cold front rolled in or you accidentally exposed your plants to the chilly weather this winter, you can revive them by bringing them indoors, watering them, and being patient. In the future, keep an eye on weather reports, bring your plants indoors in advance, and apply proper coverings to overwinter outdoor trees, shrubs, and plants.

Do you have any tips for keeping plants safe during the cooler months? Share in the comments below!