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Science Chat: Freeze damage to plants and pipes

Cold Weather
Posted at 11:30 PM, Jan 21, 2014
and last updated 2014-01-21 23:30:00-05

MIDWAY, Fla. (WTXL) -- Plants are susceptible to freezes, and lengthy amounts of time in sub-freezing temperatures often can end the growing season and cause damage to the plant's life cycle.

The water droplets and molecules ingested through the tube-like distribution structure in most plants will react to temperatures below 32° just like the water in a disposable plastic bottle left in a freezer for several hours; the ice will expand from its original form, place pressure on the confines of the "tubes," and eventually cause them to burst, which leads to wilting and damage of the plant.

Plumbing and pipes are very similar to plants in terms of how freezing water can create problems, just on a broader scale.  Brief light freezes can trigger the peril in plants, but the higher volume of water in even thin piping demands more time for the liquid to freeze, expand, and rupture the pipe.

That's why most plants that are vulnerable to even short-lived freezing temperatures, while burst pipes take longer to occur in colder freeze set-ups.