Can Cordyline ‘Red Star’ Survive Frost Damage?

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My Cordyline australis ‘Red Star’ has flourished since I got it around 5 years ago. After a prolonged cold snap in the UK this winter, with temperatures down to -10 in my area, it has sustained some severe frost damage. All of the leaves at the top of the stem have completely collapsed and turned brown. I am concerned that the plant may have died.

So I carried out some research to find out what the chances of recovery are for my Cordyline.

Cordyline ‘Red Star’ is not fully hardy and should be protected from frost. Frost damage can cause spots on, or browning of, the plant’s leaves. Although it is possible for Cordyline ‘Red Star’ to recover from frost damage, in some cases it can be severe enough to kill the plant.

Frost damaged leaves on my Cordyline ‘Red Star’

How Should I Protect my Cordyline ‘Red Star’ From Frost?

‘Red Star’ is one of the more tender Cordyline varieties available and is hardy down to around -5 degrees.

They are susceptible to frost and will need to be protected, younger plants especially, during any periods of particularly harsh or prolonged spells of cold winter weather.

If your ‘Red Star’ is in a container or pot that can be easily moved then it can be protected from frost relatively easily by either relocating the pot indoors (to a greenhouse or porch with plenty of natural light if you have one) or outside to a more sheltered, ideally frost free, position.

If it can’t be moved – because it is growing directly in the ground or the container is just too big – it can be protected by wrapping the leaves and the crown of the stem during cold spells.

Before wrapping the plant it is important to make sure that the leaves are dry! Wrapping damp leaves will trap moisture and could potentially lead to damage through rot.

Better times… earlier in the year prior to the frost damage

How do I go About Wrapping my Cordyline ‘Red Star’?

To wrap the plant, firstly group the leaves together upwards from the base and loosely tie them together with string (so as not to damage them). You can then wrap the leaves with either bubble wrap or a specialist horticultural fleece to protect the full length of the leaves and stem. A fleece is the best option because it will allow better ventilation and will also allow higher light levels through to the plant.

Take a look at horticultural fleeces on Amazon here.

It is best to wrap the plant just prior to severe weather, and leave it protected for the duration of that weather. Once the threat of frost damage has passed, and and milder weather has arrived, the plant should be unwrapped. This is because leaving it wrapped up for too long can cause damage in itself by promoting rot.

My Cordyline ‘Red Star’ is Frost Damaged – What Should I do?

Once frost damage has occurred, you will need to assess the extent of it.

Mild frost damage can cause spots on leaves whereas more severe damage can cause the leaves to go brown and die. You will need to check the condition of the crown (located at the top of the stem) as this will determine what action you need to take next.

Check the top of the stem and crown for damage

– If the Crown of the Plant is OK

If the crown of the plant is OK (with the stem at the top being solid and rigid), and it is only the leaves that have been damaged, then it is best to leave the browned leaves alone until you see signs of new growth appearing. Once you see this growth it will be time to remove the dead leaves and the plant should start to recover.

– If the Crown of the Plant is Damaged

If the crown of the plant is damaged (and the stem at the top is very soft and flexible), once spring arrives you will need to remove the leaves and work out how much of the stem has been affected. The damaged section of stem will then need to be removed and cut off so that you are only left with the good part. Leaves should then (hopefully) start growing from the remaining stem over the coming months as the plant recovers. If the plant does recover, you will probably have multiple new shoots growing from the stem which means you will end up with multi-stemmed Cordyline.

It is best to do this work in late March / early April once the temperatures start to increase and the threat of frost diminishes. If you cut the stem too early it will again be susceptible to further frost damage. Once you have cut the stem, you will need to protect it from any late frosts.

Did my Cordyline ‘Red Star’ Survive After Being Damaged by Frost?

Unfortunately, I didn’t take any measures to protect my Cordyline from frost this winter which has resulted in the damage to the plant.

Update #1 – March – Removing the Damaged Section of Stem

By March, the leaves of my Cordyline had turned a darker shade of brown. I checked the upper part of the stem and found that it was extremely soft and mushy – the crown of the plant had died.

Removing the dead leaves was very easy – I didn’t need to cut them off as they literally fell to the ground as soon as I touched them, exposing the mushy stem beneath:

The leaves just fell away…..
exposing a mushy stem

Commonly known as bacterial slime flux, the mushy and slimy stem was oozing a unpleasant smelling liquid – a sure sign that bacterial infection had taken hold.

I checked down the length of the stem until I reached a relatively solid, woody section, and cut off the rotten section above. I had to cut quite low as the cordyline was relatively small to start with and the rot had spread quite far down.

The remaining section of solid stem

I painted the exposed, cut part of the stem with arbrex to seal it and help protect it from bacteria, damp and frost. Shop for arbrex on Amazon below:

So now it is a waiting game to see if any growth occurs along the remaining section of stem during the spring and summer months. I will be wrapping the stem with bubble wrap for protection should we experience any further spells of severe weather.

Update #2 – April – Complete Removal of Rotten Stem

Despite my attempts to save it, the stem had suffered further damage and was completely rotten. At this point I removed the stem (very easy to do as it just broke clean away from the root system when I twisted it) and accepted that my Cordyline was no more. I left the root system in the ground.

Update #3 – June – Back From the Dead!!

To my surprise, I checked in June and found that new shoots had started growing:

New growth

This new growth originated from the sides of the original stem (which is circled below).

Original stem is circled

It looks like I had written it off to early, and my Cordyline had survived after all (although in a somewhat diminished state). I’m just glad that I left the roots in place instead of removing them completely.

Going forward, I will make sure that I take the required steps to protect my Cordylines from frost damage in the future….

How do I Create the Right Conditions for my Cordyline ‘Red Star’ to Flourish?

If your plant has successfully recovered then you will want to ensure it has the best chance of survival going forward.

Cordyline ‘Red Star’ prefers a moist, well drained soil in a part shade position (plenty bright but indirect light is best), sheltered from strong wind and frost.

Mulching helps retain moisture in the soil and will also act as an extra layer of protection for the roots during winter.

If growing in containers, frequent watering will be needed to maintain adequate moisture, especially for younger plants. Cordyline ‘Red Star’ is a deep rooted plant so containers should be deep enough to accommodate these.

Cordylines in containers and pots especially will benefit from application of general liquid fertilizer during the growing season (always use in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions):

What if my Cordyline Does not Recover?

If the worst happens and your Cordyline fails to recover, unfortunately you will have to replace the plant.

Why not check out some of the Cordyline Red Stars available on Amazon below!

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