Frost Damage to Houseplant

It took only a few seconds of extreme cold to damage the leaves of this Ficus elastica.
It took only a few seconds of extreme cold to damage the leaves of this Ficus elastica.

What happens to houseplants when you move them-4°F (-20°C). How they would fare after their (admittedly very short) exposure to such cold, dry air? Well I found out when my son moved his plants to my place one cold January day!

Well, 10 days later, all but one were are doing fine. I even repotted two of them (they really needed it!), then repotted one of the two a second time after I accidentally knocked it over.

One Unhappy Camper

The one exception is a young Ficus elastica: one of those pots overcrowded with micro propagated cuttings that passes for a houseplant these days. It’s not that Ficus elastica is necessarily any less cold tolerant than the other houseplants, but it was the only plant that had not been fully covered.

It was in a cloth bag with a  few other plants, but being taller then they, its upper leaves stuck out into the cold. I estimate that it was only exposed to about 30 seconds of cold air (in two blasts, moving into the car, then out of the car into my house), but now you can see the youngest leaves have browned along the edges and even their surface is damaged: a sort of yellowish mottling that might under other circumstances look like thrips damage, but that I figure is damage to the outer layer of leaf cells: the cuticle.

My guess is that these leaves will probably die and possibly also the bud at the plant’s tip. If they don’t, I’ll probably cut them off. However, the lower leaves (the ones that were inside the bag) seem fine. I’m assuming the plant itself is essentially all right and that it will soon begin to recover from its ordeal.

So, take my word on this, only a few seconds cold can damage plants: wrap them well before you move them in cold weather!

Here’s some more in fo on moving houseplants in winter.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

2 comments on “Frost Damage to Houseplant

  1. Goodness, I can not imagine weather that is so cold that it damages foliage so instantly. I know that ficus elastica is sensitive to frost, but the mild frost here is not ‘that’ cold.

  2. As most houseplants are from the tropics it makes sense that only a few seconds of cold would be detrimental. Just like us we need to be kept warm and cosy.

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!