After the Freeze

by Linda Cace, Bexar County Master Gardener

Now that the snow is melting and temperatures are warming, many of us will be heading outside to assess damage and maybe shed a few tears. I, for one, have been standing at my back windows and mourning my beloved plants, but things may not be as bad as they look right now. Patience, my friends, patience! Even though many plants look really bad right now, many experts suggest taking a wait and see approach.

According to Dr. William Johnson, a horticulturist with Texas AgriLife Extension, don’t be in a hurry to prune or cut back damaged foliage or branches. These can provide a “security layer” for emerging new growth, whether it is from existing stems or roots. He also says to refrain from fertilizing cold damaged plants because they need time and energy to recover and should not be encouraged to produce new growth until they’re ready. They should, however, be kept well-watered while recovering.

The tops of society garlic succumbed to the freeze but will most likely come back as temperatures warm. Photo: Lynn Cox, BCMG

This is very general advice because we all live and garden under different conditions. The most important thing, I think, is summed up by Neil Sperry in an article entitled “Helping Plants Recover from Freeze Damage,” when he says, “Don’t rush to judgement. In many cases, you won’t know the extent of winter freeze injury until plants try to leaf out in the spring. Even if leaves are browned, don’t assume immediately that the plant will not produce new leaves from old stem tissues. You’ll be better able to tell by early to mid-March, and certainly by April.”

If you’re interested in more detailed information on freeze damaged plants, both Neil Sperry and Texas AgriLife Extension have plant specific and location specific information online.

So, patience, my friends, patience. The great gardener Gertrude Jekyll once wrote, “A garden is a great teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all, it teaches entire trust.” So, let’s all trust that our gardens will recover… or at least some of them will if we are patient and caring. Time will tell, so hang in there!