Alphabetical Plant Listing

Frost Damage

How to Identify, Prevent, and Treat Frost Damage

What is Frost Damage?

Frost damage, also known as freeze damage, refers to the physical damage caused to plants, crops, structures, or other materials as a result of exposure to freezing temperatures. Frost damage occurs when the water content in the cells of plants or other materials freeze, causing the expansion and rupture of the cell walls, leading to tissue damage.

What Causes Frost Damage?

Frost damage is caused by exposure to freezing temperatures. When the temperature drops below freezing, the water in plants, crops, and other materials freezes and expands, causing the cells to rupture and lead to physical damage.

There are a few factors that can increase the likelihood and severity of frost damage. These include:

  1. Temperature: Frost damage occurs when temperatures drop below freezing (0°C or 32°F). The severity of the damage depends on how long the temperature stays below freezing and how low the temperature drops.

  2. Moisture: When there is a high level of moisture in the air or on the surface of plants or other materials, it can increase the likelihood of frost damage. This is because moisture freezes at a higher temperature than dry air.

  3. Wind: Wind can exacerbate frost damage by causing water to evaporate more quickly from the surface of plants or other materials, leading to faster cooling and freezing.

  4. Location: Certain locations are more prone to frost damage than others. For example, low-lying areas or areas with poor drainage are more likely to experience frost damage because cold air tends to settle in these areas.

  5. Plant or material type: Different plants and materials have varying levels of tolerance to freezing temperatures. Some are more vulnerable to frost damage than others.

What are the Symptoms?

The symptoms of frost damage can vary depending on the severity of the exposure and the type of plant or material that is affected. Some common symptoms of frost damage in plants include:

  • Discolored or blackened leaves or stems
  • Wilting or drooping leaves
  • Soft or mushy tissue when touched
  • Defoliation or leaf drop
  • Stunted growth or distorted leaves
  • Brown or black patches on leaves, fruits or flowers
  • Split bark on the stems or trunks of woody plants

In crops, frost damage can cause reduced yields, lower-quality produce, or complete crop failure.

It is important to note that some symptoms of frost damage may not appear immediately after exposure to freezing temperatures. In some cases, it may take several days for the symptoms to become visible. Additionally, some plants may be able to recover from mild frost damage, while others may suffer irreversible damage.

How to Prevent Frost Damage?

Preventing and treating frost damage can involve several measures, depending on the severity of the exposure and the type of plant or material affected. Here are some steps that can be taken to prevent and treat frost damage:

Monitor weather conditions: Stay informed about the weather forecast and take measures to protect plants or materials when temperatures are expected to drop below freezing.

Cover plants: Covering plants with blankets, tarps, or other materials can help protect them from frost damage. Ensure that the covers extend to the ground and are secured tightly to prevent cold air from entering.

Plant selection: Choose plants that are reliably hardy and suited to your growing conditions. Our Plant finder can help you find the perfect plants for your area.

Avoid frost pockets: Frost pockets are areas in a landscape or garden where cold air can collect and become trapped, resulting in colder temperatures that can cause frost damage to plants. These areas are typically low-lying, surrounded by hills or other obstructions that prevent cold air from escaping.

Apply mulch: Mulch can be an effective way to prevent or reduce frost damage in plants. It helps to insulate the soil, reducing the rate of heat loss and preventing the soil from freezing. This can help to protect the roots of plants from frost damage and allow them to continue growing and developing, even during periods of cold weather. Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the plant, taking care to avoid the stems and leaves. The layer of mulch should be around 2 to 3 inches thick (5-7 cm) and should cover the entire root zone. Some materials that can be used for mulch include straw, leaves, wood chips, and shredded bark.

Move your container-grown plants: Move the containers to a protected location. Covering the plants with frost blankets or other protective coverings can provide additional insulation and help to prevent frost damage. Ensure that the coverings extend all the way to the ground and are secured tightly to prevent cold air from entering.

Tender plants: If lifting or moving tender plants to a more sheltered location or greenhouse is not feasible, another option to protect them from frost damage is to wrap them. This can help to insulate the plants and prevent the cold from damaging them. Some examples of plants that can be wrapped include bananas and tree ferns.

Tender perennials: One effective method to prevent frost damage to tender perennials such as dahlias, cannas, pelargoniums, and fuchsias is to lift them before the first frosts. 

Nitrogen-fertilizers: Using nitrogen-rich fertilizers on plants that are at risk of frost damage can actually increase the risk of damage. This is because nitrogen-rich fertilizers can promote new growth, which is often more vulnerable to frost damage than older growth. Avoid applying nitrogen-rich fertilizers late in the season.

Tender bedding plants: Tender bedding plants are particularly vulnerable to frost damage, as they are often annuals that are not adapted to cold weather. Plant them out after the danger of frost has passed.

How to Treat Frost Damage?

If your plants have already suffered from frost damage, there are some steps you can take to treat them:

  1. Assess the damage: Take a close look at the plants to determine the extent of the damage. If only the leaves or tips of the plant are affected, the plant may recover. If the damage is more severe, such as blackened stems or a completely wilted plant, it may not be salvageable.

  2. Remove damaged leaves or stems: If the plant has only suffered minor damage, you can remove any damaged leaves or stems to promote new growth. Use clean, sharp scissors or pruners to make clean cuts.

  3. Fertilize the plants: If the plant shows signs of recovery, you can fertilize it with a balanced fertilizer to encourage new growth.

  4. Provide additional protection: If the plant is still at risk of further frost damage, you can provide additional protection by covering it with frost cloths or moving it to a protected location.

  5. Be patient: It may take some time for the plant to recover from frost damage. Be patient and continue to care for the plant as needed, providing water, fertilizer, and protection as necessary.

By taking these steps, it is possible to treat frost-damaged plants and help them recover from the effects of freezing temperatures. However, prevention is key when it comes to protecting plants from frost damage, and taking proactive measures before a freeze can help to minimize the risk of damage in the first place.

Guide Information

Agrofruti, Shutterstock

While every effort has been made to describe these plants accurately, please keep in mind that height, bloom time, and color may differ in various climates. The description of these plants has been written based on numerous outside resources.

Guide Information

Find your Hardiness Zone

Find your Climate Zone

Find your Heat Zone


Create a membership account to save your garden designs and to view them on any device.

Becoming a contributing member of Gardenia is easy and can be done in just a few minutes. If you provide us with your name, email address and the payment of a modest $25 annual membership fee, you will become a full member, enabling you to design and save up to 25 of your garden design ideas.

Join now and start creating your dream garden!

Create a New Collection

Optional. For your reference.

Move Selected Plants to a Different Collection

Delete Collection

This field is required.

Rename Collection

This field is required.