Help gardens survive record cold

Yes we should have, could have, would have … but probably did not. Many of us were caught by surprise when record cold weather struck earlier this month. It’s likely we did not protect our gardens adequately.

The extent of the damage depends upon the species, position of the plant in the landscape, moisture level of the soil and the presence of certain weather elements such as harsh wind, ice accumulation and number of days below freezing.

Unfortunately, freeze damage may not be apparent for a few months. Some of the damage caused by extended low temperatures may include root death in newly planted or young trees or shrubs, bud death in fruit trees, damage to succulent twigs, bark splits (often responsible for canker development) and soft tissue damage.

The presence of adequate moisture in the soil surrounding plants will help to protect their roots. Dry plants suffer far more damage. Always water about 24 hours in advance of a cold front to allow time for the soil to drain properly and also to allow plants to take up moisture into their trunks or stems. Additional tips for winter care include:

In advance of a freeze, cover tender shrubs such as palms and oleanders with frost cloth or old blankets, not plastic. Secure the cover to the ground to trap warm air. Remove covers during the day when the air warms.

React slowly to cold damage, particularly on woody plants. Delay pruning damaged stems or limbs until freezing weather passes to protect plant tissue from additional damage. Better yet, wait until spring because it will be hard to judge the magnitude of damage. If the stem tissues blacken, shrivel and turn brittle, the plant part can be safely trimmed; otherwise wait.

Allow plenty of time next spring for new growth to occur before judging that a plant or plant part is dead. The more severe the damage, the longer it takes for buds to emerge, particularly the buds lying in older parts of the plant.

Some vines, perennials or small shrubs may be killed almost to the ground. After the last danger of freezing weather has occurred, trim the damaged plant to about 6 inches above the ground and wait to see if the plant rebounds after a few months.