Freeze Damage To Plants – Information On How To Treat Frozen Plants
What Is Frost Damage?
Frost damage occurs when freezing temperatures cause water to freeze in the soil or plant tissue, causing it to lose its ability to take up nutrients and water. Water loss results in wilting of leaves and stems, which eventually causes death. If left untreated, frost damage may lead to death within days.
How Does It Affect Vegetables And Fruit Trees?
The effects of frost damage are most severe on vegetables and fruit trees. When plants are exposed to freezing temperatures they begin losing their ability to absorb nutrients and water due to the loss of chlorophyll (the green pigment) in the leaves and stems. Without sufficient light, these plants will not survive long enough for them to grow into full size fruits or vegetables.
When frost damage occurs, the plant’s stem becomes brittle and breaks off at the base. The plant dies. Some plants may survive if they have been protected from the elements, but usually not well. Once frost damage occurs, it cannot be repaired because there is no way to restore chlorophyll to the affected area.
If your plants are suffering from frost damage, you need to get them out of danger as soon as possible!
How Can You Tell If The Plant Is Frost Damaged?
The first thing that you will notice is that the leaves on the plant will turn brown or black and begin to wilt. In extreme cold, the entire plant may wilt and not return to its normal position when the temperature rises. Other plants in the area are also likely to be affected by frost damage. Some plants are more susceptible than others.
How Can You Prevent Your Plants From Sustaining Frost Damage?
If your region is prone to frost damage, there are some steps you can take to protect your vegetable garden and fruit tree so that they do not sustain frost damage. The first step is to clear the area of all dead vegetation and debris because this provides extra protection from the cold air by acting as an insulator.
You can also create a windbreak by planting evergreen trees and shrubs along the edges of your property. These plants will protect the vegetables and fruit trees from frost damage by creating a barrier that blocks out the cold air.
Another option is to build a frost wall around your garden. To do this, you will need to dig a trench all the way around the garden. The width of the trench should be at least twice the width of the garden bed. After digging the trench, line it with plastic and fill it with hot water or sand.
This creates a barrier against frost that will protect your plants.
The ground can be pre-warmed by covering it in black plastic several days before the expected frost and then uncovered during the day.
What Can You Do If Your Garden Sustains Frost Damage?
Once your plants have sustained frost damage, there is little you can do to save them. It’s best to cover the damaged plants with cardboard boxes or place some type of covering over the area so that no additional cold air will reach the damaged plants.
It may also be beneficial to remove the damaged plants and replant others in their place. This will allow the plant population to regenerate in that area and provide shelter for those that survive.
Once the cold snap has subsided, you might want to try covering the garden with some type of protective covering such as plastic. This will allow the plants that survived to continue growing without sustaining any additional frost damage.
What If My Plant Is Only Partially Damaged?
If only part of the plant is damaged, there are some steps you can take to save it. If the damaged part is a single leaf, you can snip it off with scissors. Dead flowers can be removed as well.
If the damage involves part of the stalk or stem, you need to cut out all the damaged parts and remove any decayed spots. You will also need to prune away branches and twigs that are dead or weak. Cut them as closely as possible next to the healthy wood to ensure a clean cut.
If the plant was severely damaged and has lost most of its leaves or it is late in the season, you may want to cut your losses and remove the plant entirely. You can then replant the area with something that will do better in that particular climate.
You will need to apply a light dressing of mulch after removing dead plants to help retain soil moisture in the garden beds.
What If The Damage Was Completely Destroyed?
If the frost has completely destroyed your garden or fruit trees, you can try to save what you can by collecting the seeds. You should begin harvesting the seeds as soon as they ripen on the plant and dry them thoroughly before storing them in ziplock bags or canning jars.
If all of the fruit trees or garden plants have sustained severe frost damage and you cannot harvest the seeds, you can start over by removing the debris in the spring. Then you can till the soil to a depth of 8-10 inches and add manure or compost. Once this is done, you can replant the area with a cover crop or what will ultimately be your new garden or fruit trees. You can then start over by following the steps listed earlier in this article.
Be sure to keep records of your progress to help you remain on track the following year.
What If You Live In A Northern Climate Where There Are Severe Winds?
If you live in an area that experiences strong windstorms on a regular basis, you need to take special precautions to protect your garden.
Dig a shallow trench around your garden area. This will help prevent soil from being blown away as well as preventing water from running away. It will also help prevent animals from digging into your garden area.
When planting, place plants that are more resistant to wind on the north side of the garden as they are more likely to survive in windy locations.
Sources & references used in this article:
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Overexpression of the rice Osmyb4 gene increases chilling and freezing tolerance of Arabidopsis thaliana plants by C Vannini, F Locatelli, M Bracale, E Magnani… – The Plant …, 2004 – Wiley Online Library
Responses of Plants to Environmental Stress, Volume 1: Chilling, Freezing, and High Temperature Stresses. by J Levitt – 1980 – cabdirect.org
Freezing and injury in plants by MJ Burke, LV Gusta, HA Quamme… – … Review of Plant …, 1976 – annualreviews.org
Role of cold-responsive genes in plant freezing tolerance by MF Thomashow – Plant physiology, 1998 – Am Soc Plant Biol
Profiling membrane lipids in plant stress responses role of phospholipase Dα in freezing-induced lipid changes in Arabidopsis by R Welti, W Li, M Li, Y Sang, H Biesiada, HE Zhou… – Journal of Biological …, 2002 – ASBMB
Cold comfort farm: the acclimation of plants to freezing temperatures by Z Xin, J Browse – Plant, Cell & Environment, 2000 – Wiley Online Library