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Damaging Assessment – The Waiting Game


By Paul James

I know many of you are worried about the likelihood that some of your plants were damaged or destroyed by recent brutally cold temperatures. I am too. After all, anything you’ve planted in the past 25 or 30 years has never experienced temps of -15 degrees (or more). And unfortunately, it’s going to be some time before we know the answers. Weeks perhaps. Here’s why.

For starters, there’s the issue of hardiness. Depending on exactly where you live in Green Country, you’re in either USDA Hardiness Zone 6b, where the average annual minimum temperature is -5 to zero degrees, or 7a, where the average is zero to 5 degrees. Either way, most areas experienced temps much, much colder than that.

That means that if a plant is rated at Hardiness Zone 6 or 7, it’s anyone’s guess at this point whether that plant will survive. Only time will tell. However, keep in mind that much of the information regarding a plant’s hardiness is anecdotal rather than scientific, so it’s certainly possible that some plants rated for Zone 6 will make it. I’m less optimistic about plants rated for Zone 7. Hundreds of plants common to this area (conifers in particular) are hardy to at least -20, so they may be fine.

Now let’s talk about soil temperatures, and on this subject I have better news.

Both 4” and 10” soil temps throughout Green Country have, on average, been above freezing — barely — for the past 10 days. And they’ve actually warmed up a degree or two this week thanks to the snow, which insulates the soil. That’s a critical measurement, because as I mentioned last week, if water freezes outside of a plant’s cells, that’s okay. But if water within cells freezes, a plant will die. Another plus — soil moisture has been sufficient, which keeps soils warmer and prevents plant roots from desiccating.

Freeze damage is often immediately visible — black or brown leaves, some of which turn to mush. But that’s not always the case, especially among deciduous plants that don’t have any leaves at the moment. Some plants may look okay, but come spring they may not push new growth. And I’m afraid we’re going to see that on a scale we haven’t seen in years. I hope I’m wrong.

Happy gardening, ya’ll.

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36 responses to “Damaging Assessment – The Waiting Game”

  1. Bill Hinkle says:

    I love this information. As an amateur gardener this kind of stuff is not only relevant but fun to read. Paul James is a one-of-a-kind pro and Southwood is lucky to have him on their team.

  2. Paula Milsten says:

    What do you think will happen to the pansies planted late fall in the ground — will they survive?

  3. Chrissy Chitwood says:

    Thank you for this help
    Keep the advice coming

  4. Gaurav says:

    Hi Paul,

    I planted a couple of large redbuds (6t) and a lacebark elm (7ft) in early October. I was advised by the Southwood staff to water them twice a week, which I have until the snow storm hit last week. How soon should I return to watering them once the snow melts?

  5. Gaurav says:

    Paul,

    What is the likelihood of a young Desert Willow making it? I planted one in April last spring. The USDA data on this is conflicted? Any thoughts?

    • Paul James says:

      I think there’s reason for optimism. Technically, it’s hardy to Zone 5, although the fact that it’s newly planted does put it at risk. Cross your fingers.

  6. Shelley Nelson says:

    What about Maples? You guys planted 5 for us last spring (2 Shantung and 3 Brandywine).

    • Paul James says:

      They should be fine. If leaf buds were developing before the bitter cold, they’re likely dead. But secondary buds will develop and the trees should leaf out about three weeks later than usual.

  7. Jeff says:

    Hi Paul,
    Is there an online recourse to track the soil temperature?

    Thanks!

  8. Wauhilla Diggs says:

    What has happened to my daffodils during this time of heavy snow and extended days of freezing weather?
    Thanks

  9. Kathy Baker says:

    Help, 2 potted geraniums in unheated enclosed room. I covered them but they turned Army Green and dropped. I cut them back hoping they will come back. What you think?

  10. Leslie Davis says:

    Thank you Paul! I enjoy and welcome all information-this past 2 weeks has been extraordinary. We just bought the home 2 years ago and some of the landscaping just last season-so I am extra nervous. I just hope I don’t loose my Japanese Maple I planted last season along with my knockout Roses. Of course I know where to come to replace if I have to 🙂

  11. Jason Schwanke says:

    Are the live oak trees at the nursery the fusiformis or virginiana variety? I have a 10 year old virginiana hoping the ground temperature and snow cover spare it but have my doubts…

  12. Cathy Breese says:

    Will my fescue be ok?

  13. Peggy Boyce says:

    Thanks for your ongoing advice. My kids gave me a Southwood gift card for Christmas.I bought and planted a Japanese maple in January, been watering it weekly, mulched it . Do you think it will survive?

  14. Laura Collins says:

    Thank you for this article. I gave been under the impression that snow insulates from the cold temp and that we probably will benefit from the extra moisture. I have been worried though about some Fall plantings. Azaleas, ligustrum and barberry shrubs. I am keeping fingers crossed!

  15. Jo R says:

    My dwarf Buford hollies and my twenty-five year old yaupon holly have brown leaves on them, do think they will be alright? I am hoping with they will recover with the spring emergence of new growth. What do you think?
    Jo

    • Paul James says:

      I’m thinking they’ll bounce back and be just fine. We’ll no for sure soon enough. You can tidy them up with a light pruning.

  16. Diana Smith says:

    We live up by Grand Lake. My dwarf purple nandina and my heavenly bamboo have brown leaves and tbe berries are black. Have Iost them completely?

    • Paul James says:

      They should bounce back. The heavenly bamboo, which is a Nandina, can be cut back almost to the ground.

  17. Shonda Fisher says:

    My Chinese Fringe Flower, Wax leaf and Golden Privets and Pink Hawthornes just look dead. Is there anything I need to do or can do for them or am I just waiting and hoping……

    • Paul James says:

      All three of the plants you mentioned were hit hard, and I’m afraid their odds of survival aren’t good. You can cut them back to the ground and wait a few weeks to see if they produce new growth, but don’t be too optimistic. Sorry.

  18. Carolyn says:

    We have some nandina that now are covered in golden brown leaves. Is this something we should prune off at some point? if yes, when?

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