Coping With the Cold

Coping With the Cold
Record low temperatures that followed record highs by only 3 or 4 days may have done damage to marginally hardy plants in your landscape. Don’t be surprised if leaves are browned as a result. The list of characters will vary from region to region — even within individual cities, and even within the same landscape! What is winter-hardy in one place may or may not be in another. That said, here are some general guidelines:

Live Oaks and Magnolias
These evergreen trees normally hold their foliage all through the winter. If your tree was healthy going into the winter, it will be fine coming out of it. However, be prepared to see more browned leaves than normal the balance of the winter. Live oaks may even defoliate weeks earlier than normal. It should be no problem.

Evergreen Shrubs
This list, for much of Texas, would include gardenias, fatsias, oleanders, pittosporums, loquats and ligustrums (North Texas). You won’t be able to tell the extent of damage initially. In fact, it’s generally best to wait until spring. Give the plants a chance to leaf out and start growing in March before you make any determination of what pruning you need to do. You may find that the old, winter-damaged foliage is replaced by verdant new growth in the spring. You may also find that some of these plants have been damaged by the cold and you may end up removing dead twigs or even entire branches. Only time will tell.

Groundcovers and Related Plants
Asian jasmine traditionally turns brown when it’s exposed to extreme cold. That normally happens only in the northern half of the state, but the good news is that it rebounds in the spring. If your bed is browned, make plans to trim it back with the mower set to its highest setting (a strong hedge trimmer can be used to trim taller beds) in late January or early February. The bed will appear bare at that point, but the new growth will quickly take its place come spring and the bed will be more attractive than it has been in a while. Confederate star jasmine in South Texas beds may also have been browned. Some variation of this pruning may be needed later in the winter. Aspidistra is sometimes used as a tall groundcover. While it’s winter-hardy in the southern two-thirds of Texas, its leaves can be hurt by temperatures in the teens. Once that happens all you can do is trim out the browned foliage and give it time to regrow in the spring and summer. Apply a high-nitrogen fertilizer next spring to stimulate new growth. It will take a while, but it should come back.

Fig Ivy
This clinging vine is a favorite in South Texas. It is even used by courageous gardeners into the central parts of the state, but normal winters can do a job on its leaves and stems. It may come back from its twigs, or you may have to wait for it to come back from its root systems. Only time will tell. However, if the twigs appear dried and brittle a few weeks after a freeze, they will not produce new foliage in the spring. We will continue to monitor the progress of our plantings the balance of the winter. Watch here for any subsequent updates. In the meantime, our best advice is simply to hold tight for a while. Leave the pruning shears in the workshop. You can always access our list of weather-related coping skills in our Most Asked Questions section. Click here for a direct link.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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