A Frozen Southern Garden, Tips for Timing Pruning

Don't Cut that Just Yet!

The dormancy of winter can seem to drag on through the months until the first warm days in spring bring blossoms and new growth. By that point, we gardeners are so ready to get outside and get our hands in the soil. This time of year is a waiting game. If you live in a warmer zone, like most of the southern states, the weather brings warm days and then cold days, this back-and-forth usually lasts well into March. Our plants react to these ups and downs just like we do. Some plants, when hit with a hard freeze for just a few days will look totally dead….and yes, they just might be dead. While others react to the cold and then bounce back after a few warm days.

Japanese Magnolia January Buds

Then there are the plants that need that snap of cold to do what they do, give us buds! It is so tempting to go out on a rare sunny winter day and start cutting back the dead branches and removing all the dead leaves. With plants that are about to bud or are bouncing back from a freeze, cutting on them is the worse thing to do. It will either kill the plant entirely or you will have no buds for flowers or fruit. So, don't cut that just yet.

Plumbago Auriculata Blue

Let’s take a plant like Plumabgo. This is a tough bloomer in the south. Its prolific blue and white flowers last all spring, summer, and into the mild days of fall and winter. It is a great filler for the yard in both color and texture. Plumbago is perennial in the mid-south and an annual in the colder zones. When we get a hard freeze in the South, that lasts a few days, the leaves and branches on the outermost part of the plant turn brown. It is not pretty. When planted in the ground, the roots generally stay warm enough to survive, and sometimes you will see a wee bit of green at the base of the plant. It is so tempting just to cut it back so you do not have to look at the dead parts.

Plumbago with frost burn, showing signs of new growth

Those dead parts or dermis are important to help the plant survive a future freeze, it offers protection from the elements to the parts of the plant that are still alive. If you cut it back too soon that tender bit of life will surely die when the weather decides to get cold again. Best to prune this and similar plants back after you are sure it is not going to freeze again. 



Banana plants killed by freeze in New Orleans

This is one way to look at all your perennial and tropical plants in the garden. Some plants are a total loss, like the Vincas and Zinnias planted in the spring and summer. Elephant Ears, Philodendrons, and Banana Plants are also impacted by freezing days. This is a great opportunity to control their evasiveness. In contrast to the sensitive Plumbago, these aggressive tropicals need to be cut back annually. Having them freeze makes the job so much easier.

Hydrangea with new growth

The Hydrangea, Japanese Magnolia, and other budding plants like Azaleas should never be trimmed or pruned in the Winter. This is the time the season triggers these plants into action and they start budding. Best to let them do what they do best in the Spring then give them some tending to after the flowers have stopped.

There are countless examples of how to approach a frozen garden in need of recovery. Depending on your zone and what plants you have each garden is unique for the gardener. For answers to any special questions give us a call or email or comment below. info@thegardengates.com

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