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Gardening with Laurie: Post-freeze plant care

By By Laurie Garretson
Jan. 23, 2014 at midnight
Updated Jan. 22, 2014 at 7:23 p.m.

Laurie Garretson

After the cold temperatures we've experienced this season, it is not surprising many of us have some dead-looking plants in our yards.

There is always a lot of plant questions following a freeze.

What should and should not be cut on? Is this plant dead or alive? Do I have to worry about leaving my plants covered for too long a time? Should I have watered all my plants before the freeze?

Living in such a warm climate, it is only natural that we find a lot of tropical plants in landscapes. We love our palms, hibiscus and bougainvilleas, but they don't like the cold.

It has been about four years since we last had to worry about protecting our tender plants from the cold. This year, we are experiencing cold temperatures, and winter is not over yet.

After a freeze, it is hard for many gardeners to live with the brown foliage and leafless plants they find in their landscapes. It is common to hear of homeowners pulling all the ugly plants out of their gardens soon after a freeze.

The problem is that with many plants, you won't be able to tell the extent of the freeze damage for weeks to come. When you just can't stand the sight of all the freeze-damaged plants any longer, I say go ahead and cut. But if you have to trim your plants, try to only cut off the dead parts and not the live tissue.

When you cut into live wood, you encourage plants to put out new growth. If we were to have another freeze, all the tender, new growth on plants that has been trimmed will be very susceptible to cold damage.

All this stress on a plant can lead to a weak, sickly plant. Cutting away dead parts of a plant is safe to do. On the other hand, leaving brown foliage and dead limbs on a plant through the winter can help to insulate the plant from any future frost or freezes.

If plastic is used for cold protection, it will need to be removed before the daytime temperatures start to rise. Daytime temperatures in the upper 50s can heat up a plant that is under a plastic cover and cause burning.

Plants in a moist soil will be better able to withstand freezing temperatures. Damp soil retains heat better than dry soil. This heat also helps to protect roots and will warm the air near the soil.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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