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When did our landscapes move North? Are we not
situated on the balmy Gulf Coast of Texas? Should our
USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map rating be changed?
Our area received an un-expected snowfall on
December 8. Linda Barnett, a Galveston County
Master Gardener, shared a photo (shown at right) that
she had taken of one of her roses with fallen snow on
the petals. The cooler temperatures since that brief
snow have helped condition cold-sensitive plants in
landscapes to better withstand the cold temperatures
that have set in for the week.
What’s a gardener to do? It’s easier said than done
but do not panic at the miserable appearance of coldsensitive
plants just after a hard freeze.
Several factors will influence the extent of cold injury
suffered by ornamentals and even certain types of
fruit, especially citrus. Such factors include variety
(some may be more cold tolerant than others), and
age (recent plantings that are not well-established are
more susceptible to freeze injury). A very important
factor is the general health of a plant.
However, homeowners can take steps now to help
reduce the occurrence of additional injuries to ornamental
and fruit plants resulting from this week’s series
of cold snaps. These activities include the following:
• Keep plants well-watered. Watering is an extremely
important plant-saving practice for winter. It is very
important that plants—those in containers, as well
as in the soil—be provided adequate soil moisture
throughout the winter season. The wind in the winter,
like the sun in the summer, will dry soils.
• Even though woody plants may appear to be in
poor condition, do not do any pruning until late winter
or early spring—this applies to all citrus and ornamentals,
including palm trees. Heavy pruning now can
stimulate new growth which could easily be burned
back if another cold snap occurs. Also, it is easier to
prune and shape ornamentals
after the full extent of damage is
• Proper fertilization is a key
to winter hardiness for many
perennial landscape plants.
Our local soils are usually low
in nitrogen and potassium, the
elements plants use to boost
their cold protection defense
during winter. Even if it’s been
a while since you fertilized your
perennial landscape plants, do
not start fertilizing cold-stressed
plants until they have resumed
active growth in the spring. The
use of fertilizer now may stimulate
new growth which is very
susceptible to cold injury. Also,
fertilizer salts may cause further
injury to stressed root systems.
• Damage to most citrus fruit
occurs when temperatures fall
below 28 degrees for at least
four hours. Grapefruits are the
most cold-hardy citrus fruit
in part because of their thick
skins, followed by oranges, mandarin types, lemons
and limes. Large and thick-skinned fruit are more cold
tolerant than small, thin-skinned fruit. When fruit freezes,
it can still be used for juice if quickly harvested.
• Do not be in a hurry to prune plants like hibiscus,
pentas, lantana and plumbago. They can be cleaned
up a little if they look unsightly or the neighborhood
association sends a letter, but don’t cut these plants all
the way back unless you’re willing to give up a security
layer for the plant. Leave some of the damaged material
• Try to be patient and, where feasible, don’t remove
dead leaves and twigs of bananas, umbrella plants,
etc. until at least mid-March. Should yet another cold
snap occur, the dead foliage can help protect the rest
of the plant from cold temperature damages and can
aid the plant in a quicker recovery.
• Plants with thick, fleshy roots like cannas, firespike,
four o’clocks and gingers can be cut all the way to the
ground, and they will regrow next spring. Even after
severe freezes, most plants like bougainvillea and
hibiscus come back from the roots, so don’t give up on
• Cool season vegetables have been subjected to
cool temperatures for a few weeks before this week’s
cold snap and that is a good thing because they are
better able to withstand cold snaps when they occur.
Most cool season vegetables will not likely be killed by
the cold night time temperatures though
leaves may sustain some measure of
freeze damage. The real cold weather
champs are beets, Brussels sprouts, carrots,
collards, kale, parsley, and spinach.
I expect that cool season plants that are
burned by this week’s cold snap will put
out new growth upon the return of warmer
• Some plants, of course, won’t stand any freezing
weather regardless of how many toughening techniques
you employ. That’s one of the reasons for using
only thoroughly hardy plants in the basic framework of
your landscape (such as for shade trees, and screening
and foundation plantings). Use the less hardy,
more tender plants (i.e., flowering annuals, bougainvillea,
hibiscus, etc.) as filler to add interest to entryways,
flower beds or borders.
The full extent of injury to many plants may not
become apparent until summer. It will be of utmost
importance that cold-stressed plants also be provided
good care throughout the 2018 growing season to
safely achieve a full recovery.
The unexpected snowfall on December 8 was a
harbinger of more unexpected winter conditions.
Temperatures dipped low enough and for long enough
to exact a toll on cold-sensitive landscape plants in
Galveston County. [IF SPACE PERMITS…Several factors
will influence the extent of cold injury suffered by
cold-sensitive plants in the landscape including variety,
maturity and overall health.]
PHOTO CREDIT: Linda Barnett

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