In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
January, 2010
Regional Report

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'Aloha' rosebud shows cold damage on its tip, but still tries to open.

Cold-Damaged Plants

Dead or not, that is the question for many gardeners this month. Unusually cold temperatures slid into our regions with the New Year, but not all their consequences can be known yet. Right away the melted detris shows up, rosebuds and camellia flowers are obviously ruined. But more awaits.

Signs of Cold Damage
The keywords for surveying cold damage are simple: don't be in a hurry to declare defeat. Brown, very pale, or oddly white leaves (on shrubs especially) may present themselves right away or over the course of a month after the prolonged freeze. It is a more hopeful sign when such leaves drop off right away as it shows the plant can shed them. Do not cut back these plants that look frozen in time. Wait to see whether the leaves perk up or fall off, and look for new stems coming up at the base of the shrub. After a month or two, if the leaves just sit there and no new growth emerges from the existing stems or new ones, the shrub is toast. At any point and certainly at the last moment before giving up on a woody plant, do the scratch test to be sure it's dead. Start at the tip of a branch and scratch a bit of bark off with your thumbnail. If it's green underneath, it is alive.

Good News
More roots have survived than you may think. That makes it important not to yank on the tops of green plants to remove them. Tug gently, cut the tops off, or use a small saw to cut through thick green stems too soft for a lopper to cut. Rare opportunities come to our regions with very cold weather, too. It's hard to follow the directions to prune plants like ornamental grass, liriope, and roses when they never go dormant. Without such rejuvenation at least occasionally, grass clumps flop from their overgrown middles and ground cover clumps stop blooming. Many grasses are now completely browned, clumping ground covers are looking ratty, and most roses got nipped. Besides flowers and buds, rose leaves have taken on red tones from exposure to the cold. Shear off the grasses and ground covers right away, but wait a few weeks to prune the roses. Everyone hopes the cold snap will suppress insects like fire ants, and we can hope that it does. There's a better chance that insect eggs resting over the winter on branches, including pesky scale insects.

Late Comers
Some damage to plants in the wake of the freezes won't show up for months. Buds may not open on azaleas, for example, or a branch or branches never seem to wake up with signs of growth. In that case, inspect the base of the shrubs for splits near ground level. They happen as the frozen stem begins to take up water. Its cells engorge and expand too fast, splitting the bark. Such shrubs can be cut back in an effort to stimulate new growth, but the odds are no better than 50/50 for their ultimate survival. Now may be a good time to consider what you'd like to do in those parts of the landscape if replanting becomes necessary.


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