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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 vahayes@lotusland.org.

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