Frost After the Freeze

On Saturday, January 1, 2022, it was 78 F. The next morning I awoke to a garden at 26 F. Brrrrr! Shorts and t-shirts one day; leggings, layered jackets, cap and gloves the next!

The first thing I saw when I walked into the front garden was a hummingbird zooming past me heading straight for Mexican Honeysuckle. Unfortunately, the orange flowers were freezer-burned and the poor little bird, after trying several blooms and clearly not finding any nectar, flew off to find his breakfast. My SIL ambled over I and pointed to the hummer and suggested she put out her hummingbird feeder so the hummer could get its energy drink.

After this freeze, there’s little for pollinators. Hello winter! Sunday was a cold, windy day and it was clear that most perennials in the garden would have some freeze damage, time would tell just how much.

By Monday morning the wind had died down, but it was another very cold day, 26 F, a hard freeze. What brought me into the garden so cold and early was the appearance of the frost sculptures of Frostweed, Verbesina virginica. So named ‘frostweed’ this particular plant is known for its elaborate ice sculptures along the stems, caused by the first hard freeze of a season. The sculptures develop when water in a stem freezes and expands, breaking through the stem’s epidermis. As the water moves up the stem, it freezes into thin, fragile ribbons. The curls of ice that develop are delicate and can be quite elaborate, though I thought this year’s ice show was a bit restrained.

Frostweed produces substantial ice sculptures along its main stems, but it isn’t the only plant to rock these ice designs. On Sunday morning several perennials burst outward in icy winter performance art.

Firecracker Plant, Russelia equisetiformis:

Lemon Rose Mallow, Hibiscus calyphyllus:

Behind the frostweed, the stems of Barbados Cherry, Malpighia glabra:

The destruction of these stems means that a complete pruning to the ground is now required. The stems that grew during the year are permanently damaged and new spring growth will come from the roots. If the freeze wasn’t so hard, the plants might have suffered some freezer burn (like the aforementioned Mexican Honeysuckle), but not the bursting of the plants’ frozen pipes, effectively killing the plant above the ground. These plants are hardy, at least to 8F, so they’ll come back with warm spring breezes and longer days.

What I found interesting is that the ice sculptures happened on Monday, the second day of the freeze, not on Sunday, the first day of the freeze. Typically, it’s the first hard freeze that produces the ice sculptures. Best guess? I think because our fall and early winter has been very warm, the ground temperature prevented the stems from freezing that first night/morning, therefore there was no breakage and no ice. By the second morning, warmth from the soil had dissipated and all bets were off–it’s ice art all around!

The winter gardening chores are now set: raking and shredding of leaves, most of which go into the gardens, the rest into the compost; pruning of perennials, which is a weekly chore through February, and cleaning the pond which will be a very long, stinky day, indeed!

25 thoughts on “Frost After the Freeze

    • Did you get a hard freeze in SA? The ice sculptures melt as soon as it gets anywhere near 32, so they’re easy to miss. I looked for them on Sunday and thought it was odd that there weren’t any and then was surprise when Monday showed up and so did the ice!


      • We did- if 29 is a hard freeze. It REALLY knocked my Toscano kale back- I hope it recovers. It can usually handle cold with no problems… but this year didn’t allow for hardening them off slowly so we’ll see if they recover. Fingers crossed!


  1. Such an interesting phenomenon… we don’t get this with plants here. Maybe because there is a lead up of cold nights before an actual frost? What we do get is ice needles coming up out of the mud. Today I saw one that was about 4″ long… they usually fall over before that get that big.


  2. Awesome! I’ve not seen examples of this so large and abundant. We have a different plant here known as Frostweed and I’ve not seen this phenomenon locally. How fortunate you are to have this happening in your garden.


    • Our frostweed is also an excellent pollinator plant–it’s one of my all time favorite perennials. I hope you clicked on the link, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower site has much better photos than mine. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is amazing. I had no idea so many plants could do this. I learned that various Pluchea species will do it, but I haven’t yet caught sight of the phenomenon. Even when we hit freezing or below, it warms so quickly it’s hard to find a patch. I know there are some gardeners who find ice regularly, especially if they’re away from the immediate coast, but of course they can walk out their back door and check to see what’s going on.


    • I seen this in lantana, several salvia species, lots of woody plants. The frostweed is the most dramatic, but others participate in the ice show. You’re right, the temperature gets near 32 and the sculptures melt. They’re very thin and fragile and quite beautiful!


  4. Love these Frostweed posts; we are a bit too far north for this plant, but I always find it fascinating. Your frenetic weather sounds like ours in late autumn and early spring. 26 is about our average HIGH temperature in January. 😉


    • It’s not that uncommon for our temps to have wide swings, warm one day, cold 12 hours later. This was a pretty big swing though! 26 as an average high! That gives me the shivers!


  5. Yikes – that’s a big shift in temperatures. Frightfully, that seems to be becoming a thing. When I visited Ohio a few weeks ago, we had snow one night. The next day temps reached 58F, and that very same night, I woke up from a thunder clap. It was so odd…
    What a strange, wondrous phenomenon Frostweed is… I have never seen anything like it. Nature is amazing…


    • We have pretty wild swings in temperatures, but that one was a doozy!

      I love frostweed: lovely big leaves, sweet white flowers that pollinators love, and ice capades in the winter. It’s a great plant!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You turned into quite an Ice Queen there for a while. I’ve read that some plants native to other regions do the ice thing when grown in colder places; that fits your Russelia equisetiformis, for example. I managed to document frostweed ice in Great Hills Park on the cold and windy morning of January 2nd, but the formations were noticeably smaller than what I’d found back on December 12th. You called your formations on January 3rd restrained, though they seem to be a pretty good size in your photographs. Your readers were certainly impressed.


    • I remember your December frostweed photo; clearly, my garden wasn’t that cold that particular day. Interestingly, the frostweed growing in my back garden mostly didn’t do the ice thing. I might have another chance at this!


    • Thanks, Allison! Funnily enough, there was yet another freeze where that frostweed performed its ice again, which is odd. Those pics were actually much better than the ones in this post.


  7. Pingback: Ice Again | My Gardener Says…

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