How to Identify Cold Damage in Your Landscape

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Indian Hawthron with Cold Damage

How to Identify Cold Damage in Your Landscape


In a winter like the one just past, the landscape takes a real beating. There has been extreme cold, drying wind, excessive rain, and frozen precipitation of all kinds; not to mention the fluctuation of temperatures we are experiencing on the back side of it all. These stressful conditions will cause damage to those plants which are marginally cold hardy for the local zone, or even those hardy plants in exposed situations. By investigating the condition of suspect plants, you will be able to make good decisions regarding pruning, fertilization and/or plant replacement.

The most obvious damage in my area has been cold burn to the leaves of broad-leafed evergreens such as loropetalum, indian hawthorn, gardenia, and others. Many, if not most of the plants showing severe leaf burn and even defoliation will be fine with minimal pruning. Some, however will require more extensive pruning and others will need to be replaced.

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Liriope or Monkey Grass with Cold Damage

A simple scratch test will give you an idea of the extent of the damage. Simply use your thumbnail or a pocket knife to make a small scratch in the bark. If the layer under the bark is green it’s alive and you can wait for buds to develop as the season progresses. If it’s brown, work your way further down the plant making these tiny scratches every foot or so until you find green. Anything brown should be pruned away. If you find that you are pruning away most of the plant, you may need to consider replacing it.

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Gardenia with Cold Damage

There may also be deciduous plants which had no leaves going into the severe cold, but sustained damage to tender stems. Typically, the damaged areas look dry and shriveled. Use the scratch test to determine the extent of this damage as well.

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Use the scratch test to determine the extent of the cold damage

If you are patient, you may not have to give up on severely damaged shrubs and vines. I have a fig tree that has died all the way back to the ground three times due to cold winters but has regenerated from the roots to produce fruit each ensuing summer.

Finally, there may be root damage to exposed plants, particularly those grown in containers. These plants will often look normal until the temperature rises and they try to begin growing then they will seem to die nearly overnight. These plants will need to be replaced.

Once the extent of the damage is noted and pruning complete, it is time to wait just a bit longer. In spring, after new growth has begun, it is time to fertilize for healing and regeneration of damaged roots and stems. There are a number of starter fertilizers on the market in either liquid or dry applications that would serve the purpose.

All is not lost. How much cold damage has your landscape suffered this winter?

Feel free to contact us for further questions on identifying cold damage in plants. #garden,#gardening,#landscape

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