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When given a normal fall cycle a plant forms a abscission layer to the parts of the plants it plans to let go for the winter. The academic danger is this layer may not be formed and is a open wound that could allow for some disease penetration. The real danger of early cold spells is the moisture content of the plant and the freezing of that moisture inside the plant causing cells to burst and the eventual death of these plant parts...in general the cold does not cause the death but some secondary issue taking advantage of a weakened state.