Caring for plants after a freeze
Our freezes struck a hard blow to some area landscapes earlier this month. Damage to tropical plants was fairly extensive in inland areas, and we’ve had clients ask what can be done now.
For tropical plants growing in the ground, don’t be overly distressed if you carefully protected them and they still show freeze damage. When we cover tropical plants, we do not expect them to come through the freeze in perfect condition. And be sure to protect even the damaged tropicals should we have additional freezes. If you didn’t cover them, they may have been damaged depending on what temperature it dropped to in your area.
The question we get most often after freezes is: “Is my plant still alive, and will it recover? What can be done to help my plant recover?” There’s no blanket answer for this and you must evaluate the plant’s health. Here’s some tips.
If the plants survived, they will recover if you simply leave them alone. If they didn’t make it, nothing you do will bring them back.
Do not fertilize or water excessively now.
All you need to do is prune off the dead tissue. This is done more to neaten things up. Pruning or not pruning has nothing to do with helping cold-damaged tropical plants recover.
When pruning, determine what is alive and what is dead, and then prune off the dead leaves. If you are not sure what’s alive, leave the plant alone until spring. When the plant begins to sprout, it will be easy to see what’s alive and prune then.
It’s not hard, however, to see what’s dead on herbaceous tropicals, such as cannas, elephant ears, birds-of-paradise, begonias, impatiens, philodendrons, pentas and gingers, so we generally prune them within a few weeks after a freeze. But the stems of woody shrubs, trees and vines — such as hibiscus, bougainvillea, tibouchina, angel trumpet, croton, ixora, schefflera, copper plant and rubber tree — do not obviously show cold damage. A dead woody stem can look much like a living woody stem (although splitting and peeling of the bark is a good sign the stems are dead). So we tend to leave woody tropicals alone until spring.
If you can clearly determine what branches are dead on a woody plant, however, you can prune them back now. Try scratching the bark with your thumbnail. If the tissue underneath is green, it’s still alive. If the tissue is tan or brown, the branch is dead. Start at the top and work your way down to see how far back the plant was damaged.
Don’t get discouraged at this point. Although you may see a fair amount of damage, especially in inland areas, most of the tropicals are still alive and will appreciate continued protection through the rest of the winter.
Prune brown, dead fronds from palm trees, such as queen palms and pygmy date palms. For palms that have lost all of their fronds, wait until July or August to see if any new growth comes up before determining if they’re dead.
If you have any questions or need help evaluating your plants, please give us a call at 941-776-5111 and we’d be happy to help you sort things out.