After Freeze, Avoid Overreacting to Symptoms of Cold Damage

— Written By and last updated by Diane Lynch

Q: I think some of my plants were damaged by the recent cold temperatures. Do I need to do anything to them?

A: With the recent freezing temperatures we had over last weekend, many gardeners may be discovering some plants showing symptoms of cold damage. 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 more 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’s 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 additional lawn and garden information contact the Wayne County Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Plant Clinic on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10am to 1pm. 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).

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• Visit our website at Click on “Lawn & Garden” on left side of webpage.
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Upcoming Wayne County Extension Gardening Programs:
• Save the date for the annual Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Spring Plant Sale! This year’s plant sale will be Saturday, April 18th at the Wayne Center of the Wayne County Cooperative Extension Office (208 W. Chestnut Street, Goldsboro). Doors will open at 9am and stay open until noon.

• Wayne County Gardening – Spring Workshop Series. The Wayne County Extension Office offers workshops featuring popular gardening topics. Workshops consist of a presentation, question and answer session, and handouts to take home. All workshops are free and open to the public. Registration is required for all workshops by calling the Wayne Co. Extension Office at 919-731-1520.

  • Home Vegetable Gardening Workshop – Tuesday, April 28th, 2pm to 5pm at Wayne County Public Library,1001 E. Ash Street, Goldsboro.  Nothing is more rewarding than to raise and harvest fresh vegetables from your own backyard garden. This workshop will cover how to plant and start a vegetable garden along with how to care for it through out the season. No matter the size of your vegetable garden, this workshop is for you!

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 Jessica StricklandJessica StricklandExtension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (919) 731-1521 (Office) jessica_strickland@ncsu.eduWayne County, North Carolina
Updated on Apr 15, 2015
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