Can You Save A Houseplant From Frost?

By Mary Ellen Ellis | November 5, 2022
by Mary Ellen Ellis
November 5, 2022

I have ruined plants in cold temperatures more than once. Some survived but most departed this world and became a lesson for me as a gardener and plant guardian. I have learned when a plant can be saved—and how to do it—and when it’s time to let it go after a cold snap.

The African Violet I Lost

I love African violets. They are beautiful little houseplants with numerous colorful blooms and interesting furry leaves. They’re not difficult to grow either, despite a bad reputation. They like indirect light, humidity, and regular feedings.

What this Africa native doesn’t like is cold. One of the first violets I grew, which had survived a whole year and bloomed for me multiple times, died when I tried to give it some fresh air.

African violet is only hardy in USDA zones 11 and 12, which means it really doesn’t tolerate cold. So, I put it outside in spring, thinking it would love the breeze and air, only to be surprised by a late frost.

Of course, I had forgotten to bring the plant in for the night, so it suffered for many hours outdoors. The leaves had wilted, and some were already black. I brought the violet inside and hoped for the best, but nothing happened. It was a goner.

The Peace Lily I Saved

Believe it or not, I made the same mistake with a peace lily. This large plant has been with me for decades. I decided to treat it to fresh air one year, and of course, this was again when a late season cold snap moved through the area.

This time I remembered to check on the plant. When I realized it had been exposed to cold temperatures, I moved it in quickly. These tips helped me save it:

• I watered it right away, letting a good amount of water flow through the pot and soak the roots.

• Peace lily loves humidity, so I also spritzed the leaves as it soaked up water through the roots.

• I resisted the urge to put it in front of a heating vent, which some quick research told me was the wrong thing to do. I know now that you should let a cold plant come back up to temperature slowly.

• Instead of trimming back dead-looking leaves right away, as was my impulse, I gave it a couple weeks to see what would happen. Some new growth came in and some foliage rebounded. I then trimmed off the leaves that were definitely dead.

Saving a cold-shocked tropical plant is hit or miss. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it’s too late. As a gardener, you have to accept the latter sometimes.

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