Damage Assessment

By Paul James

Morning lows earlier this week were colder than a polar bear’s paws. As a result I had at least a dozen friends ask me what effect, if any, the way-below-freezing temperatures might have had on landscape plants. My responses ranged from “We’ll have to wait and see” to “It’s a goner” depending on the plant in question. Here’s why.

Sometimes freeze damage on a plant is obvious – the plant wilts, and its leaf tissue turns from green to black to mushy. It’s not a pretty sight. That’s precisely what happened to tender vegetation, especially vegetables and herbs that were just emerging or recently transplanted. Those plants are goners, but there’s still plenty of time to replant. What’s growing below ground, such as potatoes or asparagus, will be just fine.

Sometimes a plant will wilt but show no obvious signs of tissue damage. For example, I saw wilt on the terminal growth of Photinias all over town. If it doesn’t bounce back by the weekend, you should consider pruning the tips back several inches. Aucubas look as though they’re dead already, but they’ll recover nicely.

In many cases the effects of freeze damage can be delayed for several weeks, and that’s definitely going to be the case with many early-spring bloomers, including forsythia, saucer magnolia, quince, fruit trees, and maybe even redbud and dogwood. Their flower buds may well have been zapped, but the plants themselves will recover. And by the way, azaleas and hydrangeas should be fine, both foliage and flowers.

I actually expected to see a fair amount of damage on daffodils, but mine – and those throughout my neighborhood – look great. The foliage shows no signs of tissue damage, and even the flowers appear to be just fine.

The bottom line is that 99.9% of all landscape plants were unscathed by the weather, largely because they’re plenty hardy but also because they’re still dormant. Let’s just hope we don’t see any hard freezes this spring.