How Serious is the Freeze Damage?

That cold two years ago did millions of dollars’ worth of damage to Texas landscapes. What did we learn from it, and has history already repeated itself?

Compact nandina was browned, but it will come roaring back once it turns warm.

I’ve lived in Texas all but six years of my life. I’ve been advising Texans about their landscapes and gardens since 1970. The extreme freeze of February 2021 did more damage than I have seen from any other single event in those 52 years. That was partly because of the depth to which temperatures fell and partly because it stayed cold for a prolonged period.

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I’ve never covered this bed of variegated Asian jasmine before. It has always come back. This year I used a scrap of frost cloth to cover all but the narrow point between the two stones. You can see how much the frost cloth helped.

However, another somewhat forgotten reason for the extent of that damage was because it had been warm and our plants were already gearing up for spring growth. Many were ready to break bud and come into leaf and bloom.

Someone asked about bridal wreath on the radio last week. It’s deciduous anyway, so browned leaves are of no concern. Plus, it’s winter-hardy much farther north than Texas. Nothing to worry about here.

The cold we had two weeks ago came early in the winter. It had been preceded by progressively cooling weather. Plants had become acclimated to the cold and were therefore somewhat “hardened.” And, it didn’t get as cold, nor did it stay cold for very long.

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All of that adds up to my estimate that we won’t see much damage from the December 2022 cold spell. (Not that we couldn’t have some other extreme cold spell yet this winter.)

I’ve written mainly about shrubs and groundcovers, but this bed of St. Joseph’s lilies (“hardy amaryllis”) will be sending up new leaves soon. I’ll get it tidied up in the next few days. It will be fine.

Don’t get in a rush to start trimming plants back like you did two years ago. Browned foliage this time may be nothing more than leaves that were damaged. Twigs and stems may be doing just fine. Time will tell. Just do whatever normal pruning you would be doing at this time. Wait to see if anything more than that will be needed.

Oh! And what did we learn from February 2021? Maybe not enough. I see many people still planting the same shrubs that they lost right back where they lost them. In my area (DFW) that means Indian hawthorns, gardenias and oleanders going in right where the old ones froze. In Central Texas the list might include sago palms, citrus and bougainvilleas, but the story’s the same. Check out those Hardiness Zones, folks. They’re listed for a reason.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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