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Cordylines are hardy plants that prefer tropical climates but they can also survive in dry and colder climates. These palm-type trees do not thrive in the cold, despite them being evergreen. In cold weather, when the temperatures start to drop and the risk of a prolonged hard frost is high, most Cordylines will need some kind of protection to ensure they can survive the winter.
Winter protection is crucial as it prevents the plants from getting slime flux. Slime flux is a bacterial infection that can make the plant smell very unpleasant. This is often caused by colder weather because the water-conducting vessels in the roots and stems freeze, which then leads to tissue damage and this is how the slime flux bacteria enters the plant. This alone does not usually kill the plant, but it usually thrives in dead sections of the plant so they are usually better off being removed.
Cold weather itself can also damage the leaves and perhaps, more importantly, damage or even kill the crown. It is worth noting that the more popular green Cordylines (cabbage palms) are hardier than the fancy red and two tones varieties such as Red Star, Torbay Dazzler and Pink Sunrise. These are usually much more tender and susceptible to the cold winter weather and they nearly always need protection over winter.
Protecting a Cordyline in the winter months from frost damage
Tie the leaves upwards to protect the crown
The first thing I like to do to the Cordylines I have planted in my garden (that are not too large), is to tie the leaves together loosely in an upward manner with string. This helps to protect the crown of the Cordyline from any frost and will help to prevent any ice or snow from collecting in the centre of the Cordyline.
Wrap the plants
When temperatures drop in winter, the soil temperatures drop too and this can damage the leaves. Wrapping the plant in fleece provides insulation for the plant, keeps the leaves from drying up and getting damaged in any frost.
When you wrap the plant, it is important to make sure that you do not wrap the plant too tightly; as I have found out myself. By doing this, it can actually scorch the leaves at the point where the fleece and the leaves come into contact. Ideally, you want the fleece to be loose, you can even purchase special fleece jackets for plants.
If it is generally very cold where you live (think areas such as Scotland), place bubble wrap or sacking around the pot. This will help insulate the roots from cold damage. You can also move potted plants to a more sheltered location as well.
Bring potted Cordylines into a conservatory or greenhouse over the winter
For those with potted cordylines, especially the more tender varieties, relocate them indoors to a frost-free area before the first frost. If you have a conservatory or a greenhouse, place the plant inside with a greenhouse heater to prevent frost damage, usually you can just have a greenhouse set to frost to keep the temperature above freezing.
For managable tender varieties outdoors try creating a physical barrier
If you cannot relocate the Cordyline or wrap it, build a temporary frame over it. The structure can be made of wood, bamboo or plastic as long as it allows a bit of air circulation whilst insulating the plants from the freezing winds. The structure should be stable enough to support a polythene bag or tarp draped over the plant when it rains to prevent fungal infections.
Read next: How to revive a dying Cordyline
How to over-winter Cordylines indoors
- With the first frost around the corner, move the plants indoors and place them where they can receive adequate light. Wherever you place the Cordyline, it should have good air circulation and be a frost-free environment.
- Water the plant, but only when the soil is dry. Overwatering the plant leads to fungal infections and in worse cases, irreversible root rot. However, do not let the soil become too dry for long periods of time because it will result in wilting.
- If you do not have a good source of lighting, purchase LED grow lights. They are affordable and will provide the right light spectrum to keep the plants healthy. These can be a good idea if you want to bring them into a garage or shed, although it is a little extreme.
- When the winter is over, re-acclimate the plants to prevent any complications brought about by the change in temperature. Place them outdoors during the day in spring, bringing them indoors at night for a few days before leaving outside overnight.
How to over-winter Cordylines outdoors
If your Cordylines are in the ground, follow the following steps:
- Amass the foliage of the plant from the base and secure it, moving upwards as you go. Tie the leaves together with twine or string. Make sure that the twine secures the top, middle and bottom of the bundle, leaving together so that it can protect the crown.
- It is important to mulch your Cordyline abundantly around the base of the plant to keep the cold from damaging the roots. The mulch also helps the soil retain heat and moisture, thus keeping the root system healthy.
- Wrap fleece around the plant loosly and remove it when the sun comes back up. Remember to unwrap the plant occasionally to let it breathe.
Although Cordylines can withstand temperatures to 15.80 °F (-9°c), you should not let Cordylines be unprotected once you start getting frost.
Save yourself the frustration of dealing with sick or dead plants by growing Cordylines in moveable pots or purchasing durable horticultural fleece that will provide the protection your plant will need during the winter months.
Read next: How to get your Cordyline to flower