IN spite of the carefulness with which the amateur gardener guards her plants against cold weather, they may be frozen on some night when the thermometer falls to the below-zero mark without any warning from the weather as to what its intentions are. If she could only know in advance of the change about to take place, she would fight back the frost-fiend, even if she had to sit up all night and keep the fires going to do it. But frequently these changes occur so suddenly that we are caught napping, in all senses of the word, and we get up in the morning to find the mischief done. Our plants may even then look all right, because of frost-stiffened leaves that have not, as yet, been subjected to warmth enough to cause them to wilt, and only examination will show the condition they are in. Touch a leaf and it will break like glass. Apply a little warmth, and the frost will be rapidly dissipated, and as a speedy result the leaf will become limp.
When such a discovery is made what shall be done?
Take the frozen plants into a cool room, at once. It is very important that the place to which they are removed shall be but little above the frost-point, because the change to which we propose to subject them must be as gradual as possible. Abrupt change almost invariably results in finishing the deadly work begun by the frost. Keep this in mind, and do not fail to take your unfortunate to cool quarters. And do this as promptly as possible. On no account wait for the temperature of the room to rise before doing it, as they must not be allowed to thaw out before restorative treatment is given.
When you have them in the cool room, shower them with cold water. Never use warm water, as I have known many persons to do, under the impression that it must be warm in order to draw out the frost. Cold water will extract it, and so gradually, in many instances, that a rupture of the cells of the plants is avoided. You will observe that everything except the removal of the plants, is to be done on the gradual system. Abruptness spoils everything.
Drench the plants. Use large quantities of water on them. Then pull down the shades, and close the doors upon them, and let them make an effort to regain former conditions in the quiet of a cold, dark room. But be sure it is not cold enough to freeze your plants. Test the temperature by the thermometer before you shut them in.
Subjected to such treatment, many plants that would be lost if allowed to remain in rooms where warmth would reach them, after a little, can be saved. The frost will be drawn to the surface without that rupture of the plant-cells which would result from the application of heat in any form, and, after a time, they recover from the shock, and show but little signs of having been subjected to so fierce an ordeal.
Leave them in the cool room for two or three days. Their return to the temperature of the living-room must be as gradual as was the extraction of the frost from them. Put them in a corner where they can be kept very quiet at first.
Even if one succeed in saving frozen plants, it may be necessary to remove many of their branches. The action of frost is peculiar. One branch may be injured beyond any chance of recovery, while another, in close proximity, may be simply chilled. Look your plants over carefully, as they show signs of recovery, and remove all injured branches. This is necessary, for a branch which shows but slight injury may communicate its unhealthy condition to the rest of the plant, after a little, thus infecting it with the virus of a disease which means ultimate death. Never hesitate to prune, when you recognize the necessity for it, because you think it will give you an unsymmetrical plant. Better an ill-shaped one in a healthy condition than a symmetrical specimen in which the germs of disease are lurking. Lack of symmetry can be overcome by future training. Health is the matter of chiefest importance, first, last, and always.
Often the entire top of a plant will have to be cut away. When this happens, do not give up the plant as lost, for by and by new growth may be sent up from the roots. This is frequently the case when the action of frost was confined to the surface of the soil. The roots of the plant are not so likely to be injured as its branches, because the latter are more exposed. Therefore give the roots a chance to make an effort to perpetuate the existence of the plant of which they form a part, and wait patiently for such a result. Root-action is always slower than that of the above-ground growth.
If you do not happen to have a cool room to put your plants in when frozen the cellar is a very good substitute for it. I have frequently put frosted plants away in it, and left them to fight out the battle for life alone, and found, a few days later, that they had recovered almost as completely as those to which the treatment outlined above had been given. The low temperature, the darkness, and the gradual extraction of frost resulting therefrom had done the work in good shape.