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  The Killer Winter
  March 1st, 2007

What to do Now
This was a strange winter for some of us in our gardens. For people accustomed to frost, this article won’t have anything new. But there are a great number of us in zones that may get a frost or two from time to time, but not on an almost daily basis.

Frost damage to plants is much like desiccation from lack of water. We described this in our previous article on frost. Freezing temperatures severely dehydrate plant tissues. There is water in the plant tissue that freezes and when this happens, it expands the plant’s cells, causing irreparable damage. It is only when the temperature rises that the damage to your plant becomes apparent. A ‘burned’ appearance may show at the top of the plant on the highest leaves (or the leaves most exposed to the freezing temperature), working its way down the stem and on through to the lower leaves. This ‘burn’ did not manifest itself immediately, but certainly did within a day or so.

Ok, soon we will be past the possiblity of any more frosty mornings. You have a number of plants in your garden that looked like they have died – or should have. What do you do to help your poor, pathetic-looking plants? What we first would recommend is that you WATCH them. As our temperatures warm, look to see whether or not new leaf buds are emerging. In all likelihood, there will be new growth. This is why: Although there may be soft-tissue (foliage) damage to your plants, the soil probably never froze, and the roots are just fine. Keep that in mind; the plant will begin to tell itself “Ouch – I’ve lost my foliage cover and food producing tissues. I’d better start growing again!” Such plants may simply re-foliate and will look beautiful again in the spring.

There may be other plants in your garden with additional damage into the branches beyond just the foliage. These plants will send messages from the leaf bud areas in the non-damaged regions of the branches to begin growing new foliage. It is when this growth begins that you will breathe a sigh of relief AND only then, will the plant tell you what to do next. Right. When you begin to see new foliage and perhaps even new small branching, the plant is telling you, “Please cut my frost ruined branch back to just in front of the new growth.” And that is exactly how you will prune.

Some of your plants may take a while to rebound from all of this damage. Watch the foliage for rotting. If you are convinced that the possibility of frost is in the past, then consider removing the dead foliage from the branches. This is to prevent further unhealthy damage to your plants from the rotting foliage. Wait for the new leaves or branching before pruning back damaged branches from these plants.

In all of your plants, as you begin to see the new spring growth, remember to feed them. Their first order of business this year will be to grow new foliage. Flowering, if it’s a flowering plant, will come later.

Now there may be some plants that just took too hard of a hit with the frost and cannot recover, or cannot recover in an aesthetic manner. Thank those plants for their ongoing worthiness in your garden. Then come to the garden center and find a new member of your garden. If you need help, we’re here for you to offer sympathy, support, and future plant selection suggestions.

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