Assessing Cold Damage

Texas is a huge state, so it’s hard to throw blanket statements out and expect them to apply to any large area. I live and garden in the DFW area, so my thoughts are somewhat guided by what I see in that region. As much as I’d like to offer precise advise for other parts of Texas, you really need to talk to local authorities.

The plants that have been affected may vary as you go deep into South Texas or way north to the Panhandle, but this discussion will be at least a start toward helping you know what might need to be replaced.

Let me address them plant-by-plant. If you don’t see a plant that’s of concern to you, your best bet is to leave it alone until new growth begins in March. Many types will send out new leaves to replace those that were singed by the cold. Others will need to be cut back to the ground or even replaced. Your best bet will be to wait to see how they regrow.

Gardenias. These have been lost in big portions of the northern half of the state. It happens every 5 or 10 years in suburbs of DFW, and it probably happens elsewhere as well. Gardenias traditionally do not send up new growth once they have frozen to the soil line.

Japanese and waxleaf ligustrums. I’ve seen browning, but it appears that most will survive to some degree or another. Some Japanese ligustrum trunks may have to be cut back to the ground and allowed to regrow, but most appear healthier now than I would have guessed two weeks ago.

Loquats. I haven’t driven by any of the few that I’ve seen in recent years, but they are highly susceptible to cold damage north of Austin and Tyler (and even south of that line). It would not surprise me to see them frozen to the ground, and they normally do not offer to resprout.

Texas sage (ceniza). These plants really seem to have struggled in recent years in the northern half of the state. Part of it came from the wet June in 2007, but last winter took a toll, too. Now, they really seem sparse and weak in DFW, and I suspect they probably do in other parts of Texas as well. If you have one that looks weak, consider trimming and reshaping it prior to spring growth. Apply a high-N fertilizer in mid-March to stimulate new shoots.

Asian jasmine. No question: this popular groundcover was toasted by the cold. We have already mowed ours down to 3 or 4 inches. I’ll apply an all-N fertilizer in early March, and it will look terrific again by early April. It’s happened before.

Confederate star jasmine. Not as winter-hardy as its Asian jasmine cousin, this one has frozen out in big parts of Texas. It’s winter hardy in the southern half of the state. If its stems are still green, trim and reshape it, and see how it comes back.

Nandinas. The taller types got nipped pretty badly, but it’s just their leaves. The problem is that you really need to cut those canes back to just 2 or 3 inches. If you don’t, all of the new growth will be high in the air, much like small palm trees. Don’t be afraid to do this. You’ll be amazed at how great they’ll look by mid-April and into May.

Hollies. I’ve grown hollies in my landscapes for 42 years, and I have never seen any evidence of winter damage before. This year, however, I believe I’ve actually lost several branches on Nellie R. Stevens hollies, as well as several entire Carissa holly plants. Oh, well. I’m undaunted. I’ll replant with the very same plants.

Oleanders. Loss of their top growth is going to be substantial, and my bet is that it will plunge pretty far south into Texas. Trim off the dead, shriveled stems, and wait for regrowth this spring. You won’t get many flowers, but the plants will reestablish.

Pittosporums. This one seems to be a surprise. It’s normally one of our first plants to be hurt by extreme cold, but several people have told me that their plants survived simply by being covered. If you have pittosporoums that have frozen to the ground, however, they will not come back from their roots. It’s time to replace them.

Sweet, also Spring Bouquet, viburnums. Most parts of Texas fall between the areas where southern viburnums do well, including the two that I’ve mentioned, and the region of northern, cold-hardy types. These two are marginal in North Texas, and both suffered badly. Wait to see if they come back, but they normally do not.

Mondograss. Ours looked like a bad frosting job at the salon. I’ve already mowed it back to 4 inches.

Liriope. These don’t seem quite as vulnerable to freeze damage as mondograss. Unless your plants are browned, there’s probably no call to action. If you do decide to trim them, however, do so immediately – before the new leaves start to emerge.

Aspidistra (cast iron plants). These have browned really badly all over North Texas. Really badly! I am now, even more than ever, an advocate for frost cloth. Our aspidistras remained covered for one month, and they look almost unscathed. I am absolutely amazed. However, if you have plants with browned leaves, trim them off with lopping shears. New leaves will sprout out from the ground.

Figs. Extreme cold often hurts fig bushes (not really trees). You want to grow Celeste or Texas Everbearing if you’re anywhere in the northern half of the state. And, if either of those is sparse come spring, cold is the culprit. I lost a Celeste in rural DFW in a lesser cold spell several Decembers ago. All you can do is wait and see.

Lorapetalum (fringeflower). Lots of these plants got frosted pretty badly, and so did mine. My plants have made the trip to the compost pile now. I was tired of fighting the iron deficiency battles anyway. Had I left them, I would have trimmed them to reshape them and applied a high-N fertilizer in mid-March.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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