Cold Damage in Garden Might Be Less Severe Than You Think

— Written By Diane Lynch

Article written by Jessica Strickland, Extension Agent-Horticulture

Q: What can I do for plants that have cold damage?

A: With the unusually long, cold winter we had, many gardeners may be discovering some plants showing symptoms of cold damage. We had colder winter temperatures than we have seen in several years along with cold temperatures hanging on well into March. Some plants that may have survived several past winters, this year may have suffered from this season’s colder winter.

There are many symptoms that can show up on plants with cold damage. Brown foliage is commonly the most noticeable symptom. Cold damage can also include stem or bark splitting, typically near the base of a plant, especially if there was sudden changes in temperature. It is also possible for a plant with cold damage to not show any immediate symptoms, but later on may gradually or suddenly dies with no obvious or apparent reason.

It is very hard to predict exactly what negative effects cold damage will have on certain plants this season. It depends on the plant, the amount of cold damage, and whether the plant is healthy enough to overcome the damage.

So, the big question now is what to do with plants in the landscape that appear to have cold damage. Many think they should immediately go out and prune. Instead it is best to wait and not get into a hurry to prune. You want to wait and see how well the plant overcomes cold damage. You may think that some plants appear dead, when really the plant or parts of the plant are not dead. Many get anxious to prune out the visible damage on plants, but it is important to remember that the plant was stressed when hit by cold damage and pruning could just stress the plant even more.

The first step to caring for plants in the landscape with cold damage is to simply wait to see how the plant responds. You maybe surprised how many plants will overcome cold damage and do fine. During this growing season watch those plants damaged by the cold. Wait to see if any new green foliage appears.

After waiting a few months, you can determine the extent of damage and remove any dead wood. It is important to properly care for trees and shrubs with cold damage this season. Do not over fertilize or over water with the thought of reviving the plant. This could just contribute to the damage instead of helping.

The important thing to remember is that there is little that can be done to immediately revive plants with cold damage. Avoid that urge to run out and prune out the damaged growth. Instead wait and keep an eye on the plants during this growing season to see how the plant overcomes the cold damage. Then after a few months, start pruning out any dead growth that may have been caused by the recent cold snap.

Unfortunately, unusual weather is one of challenges of gardening we can not control. Luckily for us, the positives of gardening outweigh the negative. So, even if this year cold winter may have damaged some of your plants there will be plenty of years that gardeners will be able to reap the rewards of gardening with a beautiful display in the landscape.

For your garden and lawn questions contact the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10am to 1pm. The plant clinic is a free resource to Wayne County residents. One can reach the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic by phone at 919-731-1433, e-mail at, or stopping by Room 100 of the Wayne County Extension Office (208 West Chestnut Street, Goldsboro). People contacting the plant clinic can also pick up soil testing supplies, get assistance in reading a soil test report, and bring (or e-mail pictures) weeds, plants, or pests for identification.

Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs:

  • Wayne County “Successful Gardening” Spring 2014 Workshop Series. The Wayne County Extension Office will be offering workshops featuring gardening topics in various locations and times this spring. Register for workshops by calling the Wayne Co. Extension Office at 919-731-1520.
  • Pest Management for Home Vegetable & Fruit Gardens Tuesday, April 15, 4pm to 6pm at Wayne County Public Library, 1001 E. Ash Street, Goldsboro.
  • Save the date for the annual Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Spring Plant Sale! This year’s plant sale will be Saturday, April 26th at the Wayne Center of the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Office (208 W. Chestnut Street, Goldsboro). Doors will open at 9am until noon.

Learn More!
• Visit our website at Click on “Lawn & Garden” on left side of webpage.
• “Like” us on Facebook to receive timely garden tips, ask questions, and learn of upcoming gardening events.

NCSU & NC A&T University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation.

Jessica Strickland
Extension Agent
North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Wayne County Center
P. O. Box 68
Goldsboro, NC 27533
Phone: 919-731-1520
Fax: 919-731-1511

Written By

Photo of Diane LynchDiane LynchCounty Extension Support Specialist (919) 731-1520 diane_lynch@ncsu.eduWayne County, North Carolina
Updated on Apr 11, 2014
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