What Temperature is too Cold for Plants?

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Last Updated on December 30, 2022 by Griselda M.

Most gardeners across America ask what temperature is too cold for plants to know what care to give their plants as the weather changes.

In general, most plants need warm temperatures to thrive. Cold temperatures are an enemy to the progress of growing plants.  However, what temperature is considered too cold for plants?

This question has various answers because it all depends on the plants you have in your garden.

A rule of thumb is usually anything below freezing which is 32 ° F, but sometimes even this can be too cold for some plants.

Cold temperatures not only affect the outdoor plants.  Many houseplants originate from the tropics or in semi-tropical areas. The cold temperatures are likely to cause them damage too.

What Help Do Gardeners Have?

The United States Department of Agriculture offers a map showing annual extreme minimum temperatures for different locations across the U.S.

Gardeners should use this map to understand if the plants they are growing or want to grow will survive in their areas.

The USDA map is broken down into 13 geographic zones and shows the sub-zones. Look for your zone by entering your zip code on the site or clicking on your state.

For example, if you live in Ohio, go to the USDA hardiness zone map and enter your zip code.  Enter the captcha code provided to help prove that you are not a robot.  Your hardiness zone will appear at the top – zone 6a with winter temperatures that can dip down to -10 to -5 degrees F.

If you wanted to grow a hardy plant like begonias, you would find that it can do well in zone 6a, but you will have to protect them from frost.

Zone maps are not absolutely accurate, but they give closely related information. Some plants grow well in a zone but might not be indicated on the map or vice versa.

Other conditions that exist in your particular area can affect your plants.  It’s important to research before growing a particular plant to learn the quality of soil, amount of moisture, and humidity your plant will need.

plant hardiness zone map

What Temperature Is Too Cold For Plants?

Many of the plants grown across America originated from semi-tropical or tropical regions.  If they are exposed to cold temperatures, they can easily die or get damaged.

The right temperature to cover or protect your plant from cold varies from plant to plant.  Let’s look at some different categories of plants to know when they should be protected.

Blooming houseplants.  These can include tillandsias, begonias, bromeliads, and more.  They are best grown at average room temperature, with the summer ranging from 65 to 75° F while the winter is at 60° F. Most of these plants does not tolerate cool temperatures.

Ferns.  Both the tropical and indoor ferns do well in average or even cool room temperatures. At night, they like temperatures ranging from 60 to 65 ° F but do not like it below 50 °F.

Succulents. These desert and cactus-like plants can handle warm temperatures during the day and cold nights.  They can tolerate temperatures as low as 40 °F.

Effects of Cold On Plants

Too much cold negatively affects plants.  Many start to show signs of cold damage when frost catches up with them.  Some signs include

  • Plant wilting
  • Leaf discoloration
  • Black foliage
  • Droopy leaves
  • Loose root ball

Cold affects plants by freezing their cells.  This causes damage and interrupts the water and nutrient pathways flowing to where the plant needs them.  In small branches and twigs, the living xylem is much more affected by the cold than in big branches.

The lack of water and nutrients causes the plant tissue to be dormant, resulting in tissue death and blackened stems. The effects of the cold on outdoor plants are noticeable, showing signs of hardened plants.  The damage of cold also shows in early spring. This happens when a warm period is encouraging new growth, and a sudden freeze appears.  The temperature adjustment is a big factor that affects plants, especially when the plants break dormancy with the warm weather setting in only for the cold to set in again.

How to Protect Plants From Frost?

The first and foremost thing to do is choose plants native to the area or hardy specimens that can adapt to the climate.

Try to get some shelter from the wind, snow, and sunlight when planting in your garden.  To protect your root zone, apply mulch around the base of the plant.

If you live in an area with unpredictable weather patterns, invest in a frost barrier that you can place over sensitive plants, trees, and shrubs.

If you have a plant that you are not sure can survive in the cold weather outdoors, plant it in containers.  This will enable you to bring it inside when all the danger of the frost has passed and set it out on the patio.

Bring potted plants inside

In the summer and spring, months put your potted plants outside on your porch or patio and bring them in during winter.  However, what is the right time to bring them in?

Hanging baskets and potted plants should be placed indoors before the temperature reaches below 45 degrees F at night.  Inspect the plants you intend to bring indoors for damage, insects, or diseases.  Aphids, mealy bugs, or other pests multiply quickly when brought into the warmer indoors.  Treat any diseases and deal with pests before bringing in the plants if necessary.

If you bring a flowering plant into the house, set it in a window facing south or place it under glow lights.

Don’t be overly concerned if you notice some leaf drop in some plants you have brought indoors.  They will have time to adjust to the new conditions.  Once inside, do not fertilize your plants for two to three months.

Covering outdoor plants

If you cannot bring your plants indoors, then you will need to cover them to protect them from cold.  Use black-colored plastic to cover your plants, not a clear one.  The reason is sunny days; the clear plastic must be removed as it will create a greenhouse effect on your environment.  Black plastic reflects the sunlight so that you can leave it on for sunny days.

Besides plastic, you can use cardboard boxes, but they could get wet and soggy, forcing you to change them over a short period.

Whatever you use, be sure to anchor it to the ground using bricks or rocks to keep it firm to the ground.

What Temperature is Too Cold to Water Plants?

This really depends on the type of plant, and also the temperature of the water you are using to water!! But a rough rule of thumb would be around 40-45°F is a temperature at which you will probably cause more damage to your plants than good by watering them. Naturally, for cold-tolerant plants, you could slide this temperature range down closer to 40°F.

What Temperature is Too Cold For Tropical Plants?

There is no real “exact” temperature that is too cold for tropical plants, but in my experience, many tropical plants will tend to be unhappy if temperatures drop below 55°F. The main thing that will really affect your tropical plants is miserable days – they tend to slow their metabolisms, and in so doing become disease prone. In this regard, you have to understand that cold weather often comes with short photoperiods.

Supplemental lighting will allow you to extend the length of “day” for your tropical plants, as well as increase their temperature a little bit. LED lighting does generate a little heat. Not much, but a little, and sometimes that is all we need.

What Temperature is Too Cold For Indoor Plants?

Indoor plants tend to be plants that can survive in the human “optimal indoor” temperature range of 60° (for the tough folks) to about 78°F (the rest of us) range. With recent geopolitical energy supply issues, I can see a lot of people testing the lower limit of survival for temperatures on indoor plants. My general gut feeling would be that the majority of indoor plants will start to struggle below about 65°F without some help.

How Cold is Too Cold For Strawberry Plants?

Strawberry plants can tolerate quite low temperatures. My Dad used to have quite a lot of strawberries in Vineland Station, Canada, and they used to cover them in straw to protect against the cold hence the name strawberry. In more recent developments, we can now use freeze protection cloth that helps strawberries deal with temperatures as low as 22°F.

How Cold is Too Cold For a Jade Plant?

Jade plants naturally grow on hilly slopes where temperatures can drop to the minimum expected in USDA Zone 9a. In these arid areas, there is cold at night, but during the day it warms up to 60-70°F. The plants survive well in this environment.

However, they do not tolerate snow. I have seen plants killed, or badly injured by both snow and hard frosts. If you live on a hill that does not get frost but does get temperatures in the 20 to 25°F range you may be able to get your jade plants through the winter.

I have a friend who lives in a zone where they have temperatures similar to Zone 8b and he has brought his jade plants through as outdoor potted plants by wrapping them with covers like this. Because the jade plant has fleshy leaves and a thick stem, it can store daytime heat in this bulk of water, and that, together with a bit of insulation from the cloth, allows it to survive harsher winters than naturally possible.

Ideally, however, if you have your jade plant as an indoor plant, do not worry as much about the temperature as about the photoperiod. We keep our homes warm enough to prevent freezing – however, if you live in a cold climate and you warm your house, you increase the plant’s metabolism – so it needs supplemental lighting to try to give your plant at least 8 but preferably 10 hours of light a day. So this is daylight, plus a bit added on by the supplemental lighting.

Which Kinds of Plants Grow in Extremely Hot and Cold Areas?

Extremophilic plants are those that are adapted to extreme heat or cold. The majority of photosynthetic organisms that can tolerate extreme cold are algae. Higher plants generally are too complex to be able to survive extreme cold, with a few notable examples such as the species of plant found in Antarctica.

The extremophilic plants adapted to grow in very hot environments tend to be succulent species such as some Aloes, Agaves, Cacti, and assorted other arid country plants. These plants tend to be able to tolerate high day-night temperature differences, as we often find that the night temperatures in these regions can be quite low. This means that many of these plants have the greatest temperature range tolerance of all plants.

Frost Temperature For Plants Conclusion

If your plant suffers from cold damage, it does not mean it is going to die.  You can still move it to a warmer area and give it time to recover from the shock and adjust to the new surroundings.

Nevertheless, you can save your plants early before the cold hits them.  Generally, September starts to prepare for the cold months ahead.


How cold can plants tolerate?

As you might know, a typical plant needs to have a minimum of 10 degrees C (50 F) in order to grow. This is the temperature at which the plant will produce its food by photosynthesis. So how cold can plants grow? The answer is that plants can survive in a very wide range of temperatures. This is because they are not like animals, which need to be warm to function properly.

Instead, they are able to regulate their own internal temperature, so that they do not need to be as warm as an animal would be. As long as a plant is getting enough light, water and nutrients, it can regulate its internal temperature within a range of 10 degrees C to 50 degrees C.

What happens if the temperature drops below that minimum of 10 degrees C?

It should be noted that a plant does not die immediately. If the plant is in a cold environment and the temperature drops below 10 degrees C, then the plant will slow down its metabolism and adjust its internal temperature to 10 degrees C. It will not stop growing, but it will grow at a much slower rate than it would if the temperature were higher. Eventually, if the temperature continues to drop, the plant will enter a state of hibernation, or "dormancy," in which it stops growing completely. In this state, the plant will be able to survive for up to three years if the temperature remains below 10 degrees C.

Is the kind of plant that we're talking about relevant?

It's not a question of whether they're cold hardy or not, but more of how cold they'll be in your climate. If you can bring them in at 10 degrees F, then they'll probably do fine.

Should potted plants be watered before a freeze?

It is best to water potted plants (even if they are in the garage) well ahead of a freeze. This is because the soil will freeze and expand, and if you water the pot while the soil is frozen, it will crack.

How do I know if my plants are too cold?

The best way to know if your plants can survive the winter is to check their label. If it says “winter hardy” or “hardy against cold temperatures” then you can feel safe about putting them outdoors. If your plants have a label that doesn’t say that, then it’s important to look into the history of your plants.

If you’re wondering how to tell if your plants are too cold, the best way to find out is by looking at them. The first thing you should do is look at the leaves of your plants. If they’re turning yellow and dying off, then they’re too cold. You can also look at the soil around the plant.

If it looks dry, then that means that the roots are not getting enough water. If it looks muddy or wet, that means that the roots are getting too much water. If you have any questions about what to do next, check out our guide to winterizing your house.

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