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Frost bitten plants need your patience

Just when we thought that spring was definitely here and settled in… Wham! Winter came back with a vengeance across many parts of the country.

A few weeks ago, many of us woke up to find frost on the lawn and our plants looking decidedly cold and miserable. Now spring is back, for real this time, and the threat of frost should be behind us until next winter.

If you were caught in this year’s cold snap, it can be hard to tell which of your plants are goners and which will live to fight another day. I have some tips and pointers that should be helpful if you are still anxious about some of your plants.

Even if you escaped the worst of the late frost this time, you might not be so lucky in the future. Keep some of these points in mind and it might help you save some plants next spring!

I received a lot of e-mails from worried readers such as this one:

QUESTION: “I was wondering if we can expect all the damage from the recent freeze to trees, shrubs and perennials to be permanent. I mean do you think some of them will survive? At this point they look like they are dying.

”The Winter Gem boxwoods, azaleas, and day lilies all have extensive damage. I thought I would trim off the damage when the weather warms a little. Would fertilizing to start new growth help to save them?

”I also had Magnolia trees, Flowering Cherry trees and Flowering Crabapple trees and Lilac, Mock Orange, and Flowering Quince Shrubs. Just about all of them look really bad. I would appreciate any suggestions.” – M. Railey

One of the horticulturist’s rules to live by: Do NOT fertilize any plant with freeze damage until it has put on at least some new growth. In fact many plant experts will tell you not to fertilize frostbitten plants until next winter. Why? Because the nitrogen in fertilizer can cause the plant to leaf out too quickly, adding even more stress to the trauma it is already trying to resist.

In most cases, trees and shrubs will begin to put on new growth within two to four weeks after frost damage. This is where Nature really needs our patience. There is a powerful temptation to start pruning as soon as we see frost damaged plants. Do not succumb to the temptation!

In fact, it is better to avoid any major pruning on frostbitten plants as they can take up to a year to return to their normal growth pattern, and pruning, like fertilizing, can add to the stress.

That doesn’t mean you cannot trim away small areas of dried up and obviously dead foliage once the threat of frost is past and new growth is beginning to come back. Just say no to any major surgery.

However, perennials such as hostas and other delicate plants may show signs of severe burn. You can go ahead and clip them back now as they will be putting on new growth. Decayed leaves and branches left on them will only attract annoying insects.

Remember to water your plants. After a frost attack has passed, many plants will need water to help them re-leaf after the first tender leaves were lost to frost.

Again, be patient. Nature can take a while to help plants recover so fight the urge to do anything too drastic.

QUESTION: “I planted several Mallow Marvel hibiscus last summer. I am a novice with these plants. Do they die each year and come back full, or have my plants died? The rest of my plants are budding except these. The limbs seem to be all dead. Please give me direction.” – Krista

ANSWER: Yes, Mallow Marvel is a perennial that will return each spring, reaching 8 to 10 feet eventually. Don’t dig them up. Be patient and they’ll be back

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to steve@landsteward.org and for resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter, visit www.landsteward.org



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