Frozen Houseplants

How can I tell if a houseplant is still alive?

By: Sandy Feather 2010
Penn State Extension

Q. I forgot a couple of houseplants out on my porch, and they were damaged by the cold. Is there any chance they could come back? They look pretty dead.

A. Their survival depends on a number of factors. Many common houseplants are native to tropical areas. Some are so tender that temperatures under 50 degrees can cause damage, while others can sustain severe damage to the top growth, but are able to grow back from the roots. The variety of plant involved is an important consideration. How long the plants were exposed to freezing temperatures is another factor.

Check the Roots First

A few hours may not be fatal, depending on the plant species, while 12-24 hours or longer is likely kill the same plants outright. One way to tell is to remove the pot. Healthy roots are firm and white, while those killed by cold are brown and mushy. If they are somewhere in between, take them in and treat them with extra care they may recover, they may not.

frosty windshield

Recovery Measures

There are a few things you can do to help them recover if they are able. The factor most likely to kill the ones that could recover is watering too much. Plants with no top growth use very little water compared to plants growing well with luxuriant foliage. Too much water when they are not using it can cause root rot, which will certainly kill them.


Hold-off on Fertilizing

Avoid fertilizing them now or even when they first start growing again. Fertilization pushes new growth that a damaged root system may not be able to support. Most horticulturists recommend withholding fertilizer for houseplants through the winter months anyway, due to the reduced light levels plants generally are not putting on a lot of growth through the winter and do not need the extra fertilizer.

Correct Light Levels

Make sure plants are exposed to appropriate light levels. Those that tolerate low light levels will not be helped by exposing them to too much sun.


Frost damage to plants

Watering houseplants

Asian Lady Beetles


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