What to do about cold damaged plants
Here it is the first full week of spring and the weather man is calling for more ice! Lots of plants are winter burnt and defoliating, some were literally crushed by snow and falling branches. Daily I am asked and shown pictures of sad evergreen shrubs with fellow gardeners asking, “what do I do?” Frequently, the questions are about Loropetalums, Gardenia Radicans and Camellias. There are three steps: treat with horticultural oil, fertilize then prune, but timing is everything.
Crispy Loropetalum and Radicans Gardenia
Winter damaged plants are a magnet for disease and insects. The ideal time to spray with horticultural oil is in early spring just as temperatures are rising and we are having our first warm days. It is easier to prevent major infestations than treat them once present. This organic approach simply smothers pests as they begin their early life cycles in spring. Pay attention to the bees while spraying. Treat in the evening when bees are less active and never spray on trees and shrubs while in bloom. Pollinators are important for our existence, with out them our fruit trees will be barren.
Fertilize with proper organic plant tone products. Just like us, our plants perform better when nourished. Finally, and most importantly, please do not start pruning already damaged plants until we are sure that early spring frosts are over, which can be as late as mid April in the Carolinas. Fresh cuts down to the live wood will only increase chances of deepening the winter damage in the next deep freeze. I typically wait to see new growth until I make many cuts on very damaged plants so I can see where the dead wood ends. One can also scratch the wood to determine of it is green and viable before making cuts. Cutting above the next leaf or branch terminal with sharp pruners at an angle to leave clean margins is the best.
Sadly, some of our plants did not make it through this harsh winter. The silver lining is the opportunity to pick out more plants for our outdoor spaces! Please, feel free to come by the shop with any questions about repairing your damaged plants, samples and pictures always help. It is important to know when to say when, for example, below, here is a Loropetalum that can be healed placed beside one that I would remove because the damage is too severe. So, remember there is a perfect plant for every location the three steps to repairing winter damage include, horticultural oil, fertilizing and proper pruning.