PLEASE NOTE: This will be the last e-mail tip until the first week of January.
Freeze Damage Following the Blizzard of '09
Until then, happy holidays and happy new year from GardenLine on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
As the old joke might begin, "Unless you were on another planet ... " I suspect everyone knows how hard and, more importantly, how long the freeze was Dec. 4-5.
While the snow was fun for some folks, the long freezing night was probably the most devastating freeze we've had along the Gulf Coast in many years.
Folks are suffering freeze damage on plants that barely got nipped by any light freeze we may have encountered over the past several years. My e-mail files are overflowing with questions about what to do. So, I thought it was appropriate that this final e-mail of 2009 tried to answer as many as possible with an all-encompassing freeze-damage tip sheet.
There are some basic rules to follow in post-freeze pruning:
1. If it's a tropical, non-woody plant and the twigs or trunks are mushy or soggy, cut it back to live wood or live tissue.
2. If it's not truly tropical, like Hibiscus, and has live wood left — even if the tips and/or leaves are blackened, browned or crispy — you can often leave them in place to act as semi-insulators against future freezes. (Most hibiscus are root-hardy and are perfect candidates for leaving slightly damaged limbs in place as an insulator.) When all danger of freeze or frost has past, you can prune them back to live wood.
Other plants that got damaged but that can be left alone for the most part include Duranta, Plumbago, Angel's Trumpet, Esperanza.
Many ginger plants can run both ways. If they are only brown near the tips, leave them alone. But those that are brown will eventually need to be pruned back, even if in early spring, because they won't grow effectively and certainly won't bloom on freeze-damaged stalks. If they are mostly brown, or mushy, cut them to ground level and protect the area with mulch.
Bananas, bananas, bananas ... all I can think about is the song "Yes, We Have NO Bananas." The fronds are expendable at any time. And, boy, do they need to be, because they look horrible. The real problematic damage will occur in the trunk if they take a hit ... another time for pruning back to live flesh. Be ready to protect the trunks of bananas with layers of paper, burlap or old carpet remnants if we have another freeze.
Perennials: It should be plain to see if they must be whacked back to the ground or not. Plants like vincas, impatiens, lantana and begonias that have not suffered heavily from past freezes look horrible this year. Just cut back until you have live stems and hope for the best next year. Or, plan on replanting. If they have any shape to them, leave them alone. But prepare to cover upon the next freeze.
Dwarf pygmy date palms: Good news and bad news. The good news is that they aren't likely dead, even though many of the fronds are very brown. The bad news is that you really have to watch them on a weekly basis and see if that brown becomes black. You don't want the black to start moving towards the trunk. As long as they are brown and crispy, they can be cut way back in late winter, and they will grow new fronds.
Citrus: most oranges, satsumas and kumquats can take everything we just got. It's lemons, limes and grapefruit that have to be watched carefully. In all citrus cases, if there's slight browning of leaves, just leave 'em alone until next spring when we do our normal pruning.
Alamandas/mandevillas: I've never seen one with top growth survive a freeze of 28-29 degrees, but they almost always come back from the roots like root-hardy hibiscus. It's best to cut them down to the ground level and cover lightly with mulch.
When it comes to trees and plants considered "evergreen," scratch a stem or bark if you suspect freeze damage. If you see green tissue, leave it alone. If the tissue is tan or brown, you can probably safely prune it back.
No matter what you choose to prune back, you will need to cover freshly pruned plants if there is another freeze.
Don't be too quick to dig up and remove plants that might seem to be severely damaged, even if they appear to be dead. New growth may still sprout from the crown or the roots once temperatures warm up.
And while it may, by now, be late to suggest, remember to water any potted plants immediately after a freeze because damage often comes from "desiccation" thanks to the wind. You can save many plants by simply watering after the temperature climbs above freezing again. Also, DO NOT wash frost or ice off plants the morning after a freeze or frost. That raises the temperature too quickly and usually damages plant's cell tissue.
If we didn't cover your specific plant, and don't think any of these suggestions could apply ... or if you need further clarification ... call me this weekend on the radio show at 713-212-KTRH (5874).
Randy Lemmon's GardenLine is heard 6-10 a.m. Saturdays and
7-10 a.m. Sundays, exclusively on NewsRadio 740 KTRH.
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