How Persistent Cold Temperatures Can Damage Your Perennials, Ornamental Trees & Shrubs This Winter

By January 11, 2018Plant Care

December 2017’s freezing temperatures not only put your Roswell or Sandy Springs’ lawn in jeopardy, but it could’ve damaged your perennial flower beds as well as your ornamental trees and shrubs.

Since winter has only begun, and cold temperatures will probably visit Northern GA again this season, it’s important to prepare your landscape plants before they experience any problems associated with winter injury.

Do you know that persistent freezing temperatures cause winter injury?

Just like your lawn, your landscape plants can get winter injury too. Depending on the type of plant, winter injury can be chilling (damage starts above 32°F) or cold (damage starts at 32°F and below) injury. And if your plants suffer from winter injury, most of them will wilt and die within a few days.

Here is a list of common problems and symptoms of cold injury:

  1. Your perennial plants, trees and shrubs’ cells rupture when ice crystals form on the plants’ stems and leaves. Your plants will look wilted and a few days later will die off.


  1. Evergreens experience desiccation which can lead to plant death. Desiccation means to dry out, and when your thin-needle evergreens are desiccated, it means that the root ball couldn’t draw enough water through the soil and the winter winds dried out the needles.


When your conifers are dried out, they’ll turn brown and not recover to their former dark green color. Broadleaf evergreens, such as azaleas, will get cold injury on the outer edges of their leaves, and they may recover if they can draw enough moisture from deep in the ground.


  1. Tropical plants can experience chilling injury. Since tropical plants experience chilling injury when temperatures are above 32°F, anything below freezing will kill them off. If your tropical or sub-tropical plants have chilling injury, their leaves will have a reddish or purplish hue to them. After a few days, they’ll wilt.


  1. Tree bark will split: You’ll usually see this problem in late winter or early spring when the sun warms up the tree’s tissues during the day. Then when the temperatures rapidly cool at night, it causes the bark to split due to the tree’s tissues constricting. Bark splitting opens up your tree to insect infestation and disease.


In this blog, read about winter injury in Northern GA lawns. (Corey add this link when that blog goes live).


  1. Frost cracks on trees: For frost cracks, you’ll notice a long, thin crack that runs up and down the trunk of your trees—usually on the south or southwest part of your tree. Similar to splitting tree bark, your tree’s tissue expand during the day due to the warm sunlight. Then when it gets cold at night, the tissues constrict—leaving cracks on the bark.

Now you know the effects of freezing temperatures have on your landscape. How can you prevent any of the above from happening to your perennial plants and ornamental trees and shrubs?

There’s still time to protect your landscape plants from freezing temperatures and winter winds. The beginning of December might’ve started with snow and cold temperatures, but more seasonal temperatures have come back—giving you one more chance to protect your plant investment.

Since the air temperature is warmer right now, it’s a great time to protect your plants, trees, and shrubs before the temperatures drop again. Here are five things you can do right away:

  1. Make sure your trees and shrubs get enough water: Indeed, help your ornamentals this winter by watering them deeply. Just like your lawn grass, you should water your trees and shrubs with one inch of water per week from spring through late fall. If you haven’t done this, you should give your trees and shrubs a deep soaking once a week or so until the ground freezes.


  1. If you were faithful in watering your trees and shrubs throughout the spring, summer and early fall months, still give them a deep soaking before you put away your garden hose for the season. Matter of fact, putting your hose’s nozzle along your trees’ root system (the root system extends from the trunk all the way out to the outer edge of your tree’s canopy), you can give your trees and shrubs one more good soaking before it gets cold again. You can avoid desiccation in your evergreens when they have enough water stored deep in the ground.

If you still have leaves on your Atlanta or Johns Creek lawn, make sure you get them up. Read how leaves damage your lawn in this blog post.


  1. Wrap your evergreen trees and bushes in burlap: You can protect your evergreens from drying out when you wrap them up in burlap or another tree cover. If you have other delicate woody plants, you can wrap them in burlap or a similar covering to protect them from frost or freezing temperatures.


  1. Protect your trees, shrubs, and perennials with mulch: Mulch offers so many benefits beyond aesthetics. For example, mulch keeps soil temperatures even, protects plant roots from heaving, holds onto moisture, and adds a boost of nutrition.


  1. Put away potted plants that could die in cold temperatures: If you have tropical or sub-tropical plants in containers, move them to your garage or another area where they won’t get chilling injury this winter.

You can avoid winter injury on your beautiful landscapes plants by employing the above five tips. Then in spring, make sure you hire a landscape maintenance company to take care of your plants for the entire year.

A plant health care technician will visit your property to evaluate your landscape plants as well as provide fertilization, weed and insect controls. By using plant health care throughout the growing season, you better prepare your landscape plants for winter cold and wind.

If you think your lawn grass, perennials, ornamental shrubs, or trees suffered from cold injury at the beginning of December, call us at Agropro right away at 678-445-9990 or fill out our contact form.


Doubrava, Nancy, et al, “Cold Damage,” Clemson Cooperative Extension: HGIC: 2350.

Savonen, Carol, “How to Care for Newly Planted Trees into Fall & Winter,” Oregon State University Extension Service: August 31, 2005.

University of California Cooperative Extension, “Chilling Injury Frost and Freeze Injury: What’s the Difference?”

Agropro Lawn Care Service~ Agropro provides Lawn Care and Plant Health Care services to these areas in North Georgia: Alpharetta, Atlanta, Buckhead, Canton, Cumming, Dunwoody, Johns Creek, Marietta, Milton, Roswell, Sandy Springs, and Woodstock.