Dealing with Freeze Damage on Plants
by Greg Grant, Smith County horticulturist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service
There is no way of currently knowing the extent of the damage or whether your plants will survive or not. It will take several months to know, if or when, they start to resprout.
- Evergreen Woody Shrubs, Vines, and Groundcovers (Asian jasmine, azaleas, camellias, confederate jasmine, Elaeagnus, fatsia, fig ivy, gardenias, Indian hawthorns, ligustrum, loquat, loropetalum, oleander, pittosporum, privet, roses, sasanquas, sweet olive, Texas sage, wax myrtle, etc.): Wait until they start to resprout from the existing stems or the ground, then cut away dead and leave the living. There will most likely be no blooms this year and all old foliage will most likely fall off. Many of these plants are from somewhat subtropical Asia and simply aren’t used to zero degrees. Most broadleaf evergreens prefer milder climates while narrow leafed evergreens are more adapted to colder climates.
- Palm Trees and Sago Palms: Most will be damaged or dead but do nothing but cut off the dead fronds for now. It will take months to see if they resprout. Historically the only palms reliably cold hardy here in northeast Texas and the only ones to survive zero degrees in the 1980s were Mexican/Texas sabal palms, Brazoria palms, dwarf palmettos, and the majority of windmill palms. Sagos aren’t true palms and are the least cold hardy.
- Tropicals, perennials, annuals, bananas, cannas, crinums, gingers, ligularia, phlox, salvias, Turk’s cap, etc.: Cut away the dead mush (wait until April 1 if you can stand it).
- St. Augustine and Centipede lawns: There will possibly be dead areas and freeze damage. Mow as normal but avoid pre-emergent herbicides. Do not fertilize until nights are warmer in mid-April and do not water until June, July, and August, once per week.
- Crape myrtles: They will be different amounts of damage on different cultivars in different microclimates. Don’t do anything until they start to sprout then cut back to living, even if it’s at the ground. They will grow back vigorously. In the 1980s Lagerstroemia fauriei froze and died, ‘Natchez’ and many hybrids froze to the ground, and there was varying degrees of damage to most older indica cultivars.
- Fruit trees: Most are cold hardy except pomegranates, olives, and figs which will have varying degrees of damage and death. Once again, do nothing for now and prune back to living when they sprout. Open flowers and fat buds on peaches and pears froze.
- If plants are green and not withered, they are most likely fine. It all has to do with their evolutionary and geographical genetics as to whether they can survive zero degrees.
- Most deciduous plants will be fine although they may have lost their bloom buds. Mophead and lace cap hydrangeas may have different degrees of damage. Once again, only prune away what is dead once they sprout. Oakleafs are probably fine.
- Most conifers will be fine.
- Most bulbs, corms, rhizomes, etc. should survive since they were under ground and under snow. The foliage probably burned off but they’ll probably sprout from below.
- Live oaks: All foliage will be lost which would have be lost when the new foliage came out in spring anyway. There however many be varying degrees of damage including death like there was in Dallas during the 1980s when all the bark eventually popped off, but once again nothing you can do right now but take a cold tater and wait. Live oaks are coastal trees not used to zero degree weather.
- Herbs: Many herbs like rosemary and lavender will be dead and will need to be replaced, certainly those in pots which are always less cold hardy than those in the ground. Some rosemary cultivars are more cold hardy than others but very few can survive zero degrees. Most herbs are Mediterranean and prefer mild winters and dry soils.
There is absolutely nothing you can do to speed up this freeze damage/healing process. Watering, pruning, or fertilizing won’t make it happen any quicker. The solution is warm nights, warm days, and longer day lengths. Once the plants start to grow (or not), we will know the answer and what parts to cut away or which plants to replace. Some damage doesn’t show up for months and some plants that appear dead come back to life from the root system. Some plants with green stems like roses will show what’s dead even quicker and can be cut back sooner.
For more information on dealing with the freeze damage, visit the Aggie Horticulture Facebook page, the Smith County Master Gardener Facebook page, and Neil Sperry’s GARDENS Facebook page.
Join our Email List
Stay informed about upcoming events and timely garden topics.