A Final Look at Freeze Damage
By Paul James
Although it may still be a few weeks before we know the full extent of the damage done to plants by last month’s tumbling temperatures, it’s safe to say that some plants fared better than others. So here’s my latest assessment of what got hit the hardest, and what you can do about it now. (Hint: Grab your pruners.)
Abelia, Aucuba, Azaleas, Boxwood, Holly, Laurels, Loropetalum, Magnolias, Nandina, Privet, Photinia, and Yucca.
Many of these plants look pretty rough, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re goners. It does mean that any branches or stems that are covered with brown leaves probably won’t be coming back, so you might as well prune the damaged portions now. If the entire plant is covered with brown leaves, you can cut the plant back hard (to within, say six or eight inches off the ground) and hope that new growth will emerge from the rootball, or you can replace it.
In my yard, I’ve got two Loropetalums and a large, six-foot Abelia whose leaves are crispy fried. Those I plan on cutting back to the ground. But my boxwoods, hollies, Nandinas, and Photinia have just a few brown leaves here and there on the terminal growth of a few branches, so those I’ll just lightly prune. You can do likewise with laurel and Magnolia (especially ‘Little Gem’), which were damaged to varying degrees, from a little to a lot. On the other hand, and rather surprisingly, my Aucuba looks great!
I have no doubt that the solid green privet will bounce back, but I’m not as confident when it comes to the variegated form, as it’s the least hardy of the bunch. Sunshine privet is considered hardy here, but the weather pushed the limits of hardiness so I’m not sure at this point what to say about its odds of survival. And I feel the same way about Distylium and Yucca. We’ll have to wait and see.
As for azaleas, I’m cautiously optimistic. For one thing, some species are pretty darn hardy (down to -30 degrees in some cases), and while I have seen a fair amount of brown, crinkly leaves on them and a fair amount of leaf drop, I’d suggest waiting another two weeks or so before writing them off. But I do think many of the flower buds were damaged, so I don’t expect this spring’s show to be all that spectacular. I hope I’m wrong.
Deciduous Trees and Shrubs
Will We See Flowers in Spring? And What about Crape Myrtles?
It’s a little trickier to determine exactly how much damage has occurred on plants within this huge group because many of them haven’t started to leaf out yet. The developing flowers buds of those that bloom in spring may have taken a hit, much like azaleas, so I suspect we’ll see fewer (if any?) flowers on many of them, including crabapples, dogwoods, Forsythias, some Hydrangeas, lilacs, saucer Magnolias, and redbuds, just to name a few. However, I checked three large Forsythia in my yard this morning and the buds appear healthy. We’ll see.
I’m also concerned about crape myrtles, because their top growth may die back completely, such that they have to be cut back hard to the ground. That happened in 1986, and I’ll never forget having to remove 12’ trunks that were at least 4” in diameter from three multi-trunked ‘Natchez’ trees. If we’re forced to that extreme, we can only hope that new growth will appear within a few weeks. But it would be a shame to go through a summer without their familiar flush of flowers.
You can always do a scratch test on the bark of any tree or shrub to see if the inner tissue has been damaged. With your thumbnail or a knife, gently scrape the bark from the branch. If you see brown, that portion of the wood is likely dead. If you see green, the branch is alive and well. And if the branch is pliable rather than brittle, that’s a good sign too.
This and That
From Perennials to Grasses to Vines
I’m not too worried about perennials, because the ground never froze hard in most areas and the snow that followed the brutal cold provided much needed insulation.
Most ornamental grasses should be okay I think, but I’m not so sure about the hugely popular Pampas grass. And some bamboo may have been killed, notably the clumping Fargesia. Of the spreading varieties, ‘Bissetii’ is the hardiest, so while the top growth may have died, I think they’ll produce new shoots soon.
Most vines should be okay as well. The exception would be Crossvine, which is usually evergreen to semi-evergreen, but all five of mine are everbrown at the moment. I think I’ll be doing a lot of pruning on them soon and hope they put on new growth.
I wish I could give you a verdict on every landscape plant, but that would be darn near impossible. And as I’ve said in this and previous posts, in many cases we’re just going to have to wait and see. However, now is the time to prune everything anyway (with the exception of early spring bloomers), although you may be doing more of it than usual.
Feel free to leave a comment regarding a specific plant you’re concerned about. I’m always here to help.
Happy gardening, ya’ll.