What to know about plant survival

My pool plants have bowed down to Mother Nature's cold!
My pool plants have bowed down to Mother Nature's cold!

Power is coming back and water issues are slowly being resolved as we move toward the weekend. But DON’T spend the weekend “cleaning up” dead and frozen plants -- they may not be dead!

I prefer a tropical yard, which comes with its own beauty and risk, so I’ve been hit pretty hard this week.

My Poor Trees

I asked two friends who have landscape companies for advice.

Erik Ruediger, founder of Scape HTX has a positive attitude:

“Water and don’t panic - most Houston perennial plants have the best chance of survival if simply watered deeply to help them recover from the trauma and stress following a freeze. When plants experience a freeze, moisture is removed from their tissues. Watering them afterwards (about an inch or so) allows them to re-hydrate. Applying fertilizer will help stimulate new growth, but should only be applied after ALL chances of future freezes this winter have passed. Pruning the dead/damaged plant material, while tempting, is discouraged - it will only apply more stress to the plant. It is best to allow the plants to drop leaves naturally on their own, and only prune later this spring once all chances of further freezes have passed.

When you are ready to prune later this spring, assess the damage by scratching the bark and look at the color of the material underneath. If the material is green, the tissue is still alive. They will lose their leaves due to the freeze, but will usually leaf out again in spring.”

Ferns look like goners, but they may not be!

Richard Dawson of Dawson-Estes offered some bullet points:

“Plants to survive weather conditions in Houston, Texas sub-freezing:

1) many tropical plants will not survive and not come back to life so they must be removed

2) majority of palm tree species will not survive sub-freezing weather conditions and will need to cut the dead fronds off for aesthetic reason and then see at spring if the palm comes back with new fronds. If the trunk is soft then the palm tree is dead and will need to be removed.

3) ferns- after the last chance of freezing weather you need to trim all dead leaves of the plant and look for new growth in the spring

4) azaleas- most species do survive through sub-freezing weather conditions

5) shrubs and trees - if you closely look on the bark and has split then the shrub and/or tree will not survive the moisture and will die.”

He also suggested cutting back the bark to see if the tree is green (alive) or brown (not so much) and included this pic:

Cutting bark back to check on a tree

In summary, according to Eric and Richard, keep plants moist by watering deeply and apply a light fertilizer after all danger of future freezes has passed. Hold off on pruning until later this spring, assessing damage and amount to prune by looking at the color of material underneath the bark. Thanks for the advice, guys!

What about the SKEETERS?

So doesn’t a hard freeze like this kill mosquitoes for the upcoming summer? Can’t we get a break? I asked Rich Davis, Mr. Mosquito, who has the buzz:

“Unfortunately, it will not give us fewer mosquitoes this summer....the eggs lay dormant until the warmer, humid temperatures and then they hatch and breed.”

Oh well, when I go to put in all my new tropicals this spring, at least I’ll get eaten alive!

Another contributor to Click2Houston.com has also put together a helpful guide all about trees and how to tell whether you can save them. You can check out Andrea Slaydon’s article here.

Have a warm, safe weekend!


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About the Author:

KPRC 2's chief meteorologist with three decades of experience forecasting Houston's weather.