Understanding Cold Damage

— Written By MaryMorgan Arrington and last updated by

When winter hits hard, and your plants get covered in over a foot of snow, there are some plants that you may wonder if they will survive. One thing to keep in mind is, don’t be too quick to rule the plant out as a goner and chop it down or dig it up. Give it some time, several months into spring, to see if it will make a come back.

Here are a couple quick tests you can try- take the back of your thumbnail and rub a bit of the bark back to see if there is living tissue underneath (usually green; be careful not to stab into the tissue), bend the stem or trunk to see if it is still flexible or if it is brittle and dead (never bend to the point of breaking a viable limb; use your discretion), wait and see if any buds form or swell during early spring (this means there is growth coming!).

Some may be tempted to come in right after a cold snap and prune all the dead or withered plant material off. Please don’t do this! Leave any dead leaves, twigs, stems, anything that looks like it could be cold damage until the spring. This will provide some minimal protection for the plant for the rest of the winter, and may help the next layer of the living part of the plant not to be harmed in the event of another foot of snow or big freeze.Image of plant in snow