Wicked Winter

What to Do for Frost-Damaged Plants

frosty_fronds.jpgWe put another blanket on the bed, brought in the pets, and wrapped the pipes a couple weeks ago, but there was little we could do for our gardens. Many plants can withstand a few degrees of frost. Conifers are champs at it. Deciduous trees and shrubs were already dormant and actually relished the extra chill. Even things like bamboos and giant birds of paradise took the cold blast in stride. But plenty of other species were damaged, some beyond recall.

The media reported the losses to the citrus crops and if your citrus trees were hit hard, you will be able to sympathize. Mature trees will likely recover just fine, while younger trees may not. The trick is to wait and see. It may be hard to look at defoliated twigs and branches, but you won’t really be able to tell what parts have survived until they put out some new growth. Because the foliage has been so reduced on top, the tree will sprout out with lots of new shoots, so you may also want to assess the new growth later in the year and thin it out to create strong new branches. Many palms are also looking decidedly off-color. Their central shoot should be fine, so don’t get out the chainsaw just yet.

The hardest hit group of plants is succulents. Agaves are looking like someone left the cake out in the rain, and once they’ve turned to mush there is little to be done but replace them. If only a few leaves are limp and blackened, hold off and see what the plant will do. Impatiens are also looking like limp spaghetti, and unless there is some firm tissue toward the base of the plant that you can trim back to, it’s best to pull the plug on them and start fresh. Begonias may also look like they’ve been steamrollered, but their larger rhizomes and thicker stems may have given them a little brighter future. Again, it won’t hurt to wait a bit and see if they are capable of resprouting. Spring is just around the corner and even damaged plants may be right as rain in a month or two if you give them a chance.

Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to

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