An unexpected frost doesn’t always mean the end of your winter garden. When frost damage hits, the results can be ugly. Black, drooping leaves certainly look dead, and it can be tempting to remove frost-damaged parts of the plant. But, don’t pull out your gardening shears just yet. Frost-damaged plants have a better chance of survival if you leave them intact.
If you are expecting frost in your area, the best defense is proper frost protection. Unfortunately, severe temperatures or ineffective coverage can still lead to frost injury. Some plants are more frost tender than others, but the frost hardy plants and plants that fall in-between may still be saved. Stronger plants may appear dead on top, while their roots are alive and well.
Don’t remove any part of the plant that appears to be dead until spring. Leaving foliage in place can provide some level of protection for the plant should another frost hit. Leaving the plant intact also discourages new growth which could be easily damaged by the next frost.
In the morning after a frost, lightly mist frozen plants wit a spray of cool water, and allow them to defrost under a sheet of black plastic. Exposing frozen plants to direct sunlight can often do more harm than good because the rapid defrosting process can rupture cell walls. Only if you’re planning to move a plant indoors until warm weather, go ahead and remove dead areas to give the plant a second chance.
If your plant was close to harvest time when frost comes along, you may be able to salvage some of the fruit. Unripe tomatoes, for example, can be picked and placed in a paper bag until they turn red.
How frost damage hurts your garden has a lot to do with how you respond. It’s not fair to say that every plant will survive every frost, but advance protection and patience can go a long way toward bringing a plant back from near death.