tips for plants after a freeze - plant recovery - katy landscaping

Plant Recovery After a Winter Freeze: 7 Essential Tips

In Texas, we are not as accustomed to freezing weather as we have experienced these past winters.   Freezing weather can cause damage to your plants and irrigation systems. Follow these tips to help your landscaping look better faster.

1.  Wait until the danger of all Freezing Weather has passed.

2.  Determine a Plant’s Condition

The first thing to do with frost-bitten plants is to see how they have held up.  You can check for shrub and tree damage by checking the following: 

• Smaller branches should still be pliable, bendable, or springy. If they snap while testing their elasticity (slightly bending the smaller parts of the branch), it’s a sign of damage.

• Leaves that are damaged will drop from the branches naturally if the actual branches remain intact. A branch that holds dead leaves or doesn’t drop them is no good. (An exception to this rule would be certain types of oak trees that hold onto their leaves until the new spring buds push off the old dead leaves. Be sure to know what kind of trees you have.)

• Use the “scratch” test. Start scratching at the tip of the branch and continue to move back and forth making small scratches every foot until you find green. The deeper you go to find green the deeper the damage. If green appears early in the process the tree or shrub should survive. 

3.  Wait to See How Much Damage There Really Is 

Sometimes, plant frost damage won’t reveal itself right away. Patience is a virtue in assessing the damage. If you can hold up on pruning, you’ll be better off. 

As plants leaf back out over the next few weeks, a month, or even next spring, you will see how extensive the damage may be. If the tips of a plant have not come back or “re-leafed,” you will be able to determine just how far you need to prune. 

If plants were protected from direct cold wind, or were closer to a house, they still may survive. Give them a few weeks to see how they rebound. After 30 days temperatures above 50 degrees assess the plants for any changes.  If nothing has changed, then it is likely they need to be replaced. replacing.   

4.  Remove the MUSH!

Is vegetation mushy and rotting? That’s disease waiting to infect your landscape. 

• If foliage is mushy, remove the material as soon as possible. Be sure to only remove the wet and mushy parts. 

• Do not remove the whole plant unless it is all mushy. Agave and Aloes could come back from the roots. However, depending on the plant size, this can be a slow process and it might be easier to replace than nurse the plant back.

• In the case of Agave and Aloes, as well as some cacti, it can take a year plus for them to rebound.

• For palms, brown fronds should be removed to help stimulate possible new fronds sprouting from the center of the trunk. It could be eight or more weeks before new fronds emerge.  However, waiting is the only way to determine if a palm will rebound. 

5.  Replace Lost Plants

Once you’ve determined that a plant is lost, you should replace it as soon as possible so the new one has the most time to grow and flourish. Follow these helpful tips and start replacing lost plants as soon as all chances of more hard deep freezes are passed.

• If you are looking at annuals and softer material, you are good by mid-March to early April in warm regions. For colder regions, you may not be able to plant outside until mid-to-late May. Watch the long-range forecast to be sure.

• If you are replacing lost product with dormant trees or shrubs or evergreens, you will have a much wider window of lower temps that could be ok. 

6.  Fertilizing Recovering Plants

At the start, access your stressed plant material and make sure everything is hydrated. When it comes to watering plants after frost, remember you will want to water them, not drown them. A moderate amount of water can go a long way. You should also take care to water the soil directly instead of the foliage. This gets more water to the roots and helps the soil retain heat, which provides insulation against future temperature drops.

If your plant is alive and taking water, help it along with some fertilizer. There are three things to be sure of before you fertilize plants recovering from frost.

1. Be sure that you are past the possibility of another cold snap before you begin to feed your plants. Fertilizer will stimulate your plants to start growing, but another frost during this stimulation can be damaging. 

2. Stay away from fertilizer that has a very high first number in the formula followed by two very low numbers after, such as 28-3-10 or 24-0-0. These fertilizers are designed to push top growth and can do more damage to an already weak plant. 

3. Use fertilizers that offer a mild blend/balanced formula like 14-14-14.  There is a lower chance of burning and the balanced formula will address your plants’ overall needs. You’ll also want to stick with a granular formula over a liquid feed. This will promote an extended-release that lasts longer and will deliver nutrients in a more balanced way.

7.  Check your Irrigation System

Don’t forget to check your irrigation system for any damage caused by freezing weather.  The backflow could be cracked and need to be replaced.  You want to make sure your system is operating properly for the growing season and will be ready to help your new plants or recovering plants.

Nothing can completely undo the damage plants and shrubs faced in the freeze. We are available to help with any plant assessments and/or replacements, along with the maintenance of your irrigation system.