February 24, 2021
Question: Will my landscape survive last week’s deep freeze?
Answer: The short answer is: it’s too soon to tell. Damage to soft, tender plants may be immediately recognizable; leaves look water-soaked, dark green and withered. Stems may collapse and get mushy. However, damage to woody plants, trees and shrubs may take longer to appear and will depend on the part of the plant that was injured and the growth stage of the plant at the time of frost. Buds, shoots and small branches are the most susceptible. Winter damage usually does not become apparent until spring, when growth normally resumes. Winter damaged plants are slow to initiate growth, may show distorted growth, death of leaf and flower buds, or die-back of shoots and branches.
With warmer temperatures on the horizon, it may be tempting to rush out and begin pruning branches and shoots that look dead. Instead, we encourage you to wait.
Winter is still with us and the average last frost date is around March 16. Premature pruning can actually aggravate the damage that has already been done. Pruning cuts will expose previously protected plant tissue to the elements. Pruning can stimulate new growth that will then be susceptible to freezes later in the season. Because dormant branches and dead branches can look the same, there is a risk of removing healthy tissue the plant needs for recovery in the spring. Allowing dead limbs and foliage to remain at the tops of plants can help protect the lower leaves and branches from future frost.
TAMU recommends delaying pruning until time reveals the areas of living and dead tissue and until the threat of additional frosts and freezes has passed. Fortunately, trees and shrubs have the ability to leaf out again if the initial growth is damaged or destroyed. Good care during the remainder of the year, such as mulching and watering during dry periods, should aid in the recovery process.
The University of Massachusetts has a great site about the effects of cold damage on landscape plants. Not all the information will be applicable to our Texas climate, but the principles of assessment and treatment of frost damage can be used in any situation where a severe and unexpected freeze has occurred.
Margaret Ghose Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2017
More questions about freeze damage?
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