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For All Things Plants – What to do with your freeze damaged plants – January 11 2023

The historic cold snap we experienced over the Christmas holiday left many landscape plants in bad shape.  Following that freeze event, questions have flooded into the Extension office, and all have been some variation of “What should I do to my plants now and are they going to survive?”.  It’s a nuanced question and to properly answer it, you first need to divide your plants into two groups, woody trees/shrubs and perennials – care for each group differs slightly. 
Woody Trees & Shrubs:  Though it may be tempting, try to avoid pruning cold-damaged woody plants, citrus included.  Pruning encourages new growth, which is easily damaged in freeze events.  Remember, we’re not even halfway through January so more cold weather is likely!  Leaving frost-bitten leaves and stems will also help somewhat insulate woody plants from further cold damage.  Allow the freeze-damaged woody plants to naturally break dormancy in March/April and then, once you’ve seen where the new growth emerges from, you may cut back any dead wood to just above those new growing points. For grafted citrus, if your tree’s new spring growth emerges from below the graft, unfortunately you will need to start over with a new tree as citrus rootstock does not produce edible fruit.  
Perennials:  Many perennials like daylilies, agapanthus, crinum, and others had their above-ground foliage burned by the cold and turned into brown mush in the days following.  For these plants, I recommend cutting them back, removing the dead foliage, and applying a layer of organic mulch like pine straw or leaves over the top.  This mulch layer will help protect against further damage.  In the spring, when these perennials emerge from dormancy, simply remove the mulch from around the plants’ crowns and reuse elsewhere in the garden.  Don’t dig them up and assume they’re dead – plants are tougher than you think!
While the recent extreme cold weather was jarring to us gardeners spoiled by a decade of warmer than normal winters, it is important to remember that freeze events like the one we just had are historically common in the Panhandle and are beneficial for many plants here.  Cold weather accumulation helps induce dormancy in native deciduous plants, promotes fruit production in several commercially important species like blueberry and peach, and prevents encroachment by invasive plants from warmer climates like Brazilian Pepper.  So, enjoy the cold when it comes, take solace in the fact that, in most cases, your plants will recover, and spring will be here before we know it!  For more information on post-freeze plant care or any other horticultural topic, contact us at the UF/IFAS Calhoun County Extension office!  Happy gardening!

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