In the garden with Felder: Well, that hurt. Now what?


After a freeze zaps the garden, we look for color where we can find it, like in this bottle tree.

After a freeze zaps the garden, we look for color where we can find it, like in this bottle tree.
Photo by: Felder Rushing/Courtesy photo



Felder Rushing



I survived this month's single-digit freeze, but my garden wasn't so fortunate. What to do now?


Ironically, one of the water garden pumps froze and burned out, but I kept open water for wild birds, some of which will soon be getting drunk on shriveled, fermenting holly berries. As for plants, in spite of my best preparations some are left to recover from partial damage, but a few are deader than doorknobs.


Though the cold-hardy red flowering quince is already popping fresh new flowers, and tender leaf buds on roses, hydrangeas and other early sprouters will be replaced by dormant buds, I'm afraid this year's blueberry crop is gone.



But it was a no-brainer that the fully-open flowers of my camellias, paperwhite daffodils and early white iris were zapped and are thawing into dripping mush.


Some of my winter annuals like snapdragons, a few pansies, ornamental cabbage and newly-planted English peas, all which can easily survive normal winter temperatures, were lulled into tenderness by warm, sunny days and killed by the sudden deep freeze; I'll replant winter veggies but wait a few weeks to plant summer annuals.


I expect dozens of emails about sago palms, star or confederate jasmine, and a few other widely-enjoyed shrubs and vines are now uniformly tan. Most will leaf back out later, shedding the damage with new growth pushing off the brown foliage.


While waiting to see if the sagos made it, I recommend either cutting the brown fronds off entirely so the new stuff comes out nice and green, or spray paint them whatever your sense of the absurd or family members will allow. Show neighbors you can laugh off garden humility.


Most of those plants will live to flower another year, but I had the foresight to go out before the freeze and take photos and a few flowers for cheery indoor bouquets. In an effort to stave off a bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder and banish the winter blues, I printed out one of my colorful photos and taped it to my bathroom mirror, hoping to keep my color-starved pineal gland pumping out feel-better endorphins.


A lot of folks keep winter color by lining kitchen window sills with tinted glass bottles. Even when coated in ice, my bottle trees brighten the entire yard, especially when perched with colorful birds.


The worst that has happened is how countless azaleas, pittosporum, confederate jasmine, oleander and a few other taken-for-granted but borderline hardy shrubs have had their bark split. Every few years a sudden hard freeze ices up the layer of moist green tissue just beneath the bark and bursts open the stems.


Those shrubs will look fine for a while, but as soon as they start sprouting new growth from stored energy in the upper twigs they will be unable to get replenishing moisture and nutrients to the upper parts, and the pull of green leaves causes the plants to suck themselves dry. It may be spring or even midsummer before branches or shrubs will suddenly, as horticulturists say, "brown out" and die seemingly out of the clear blue.


Dramatic as it sounds, the only thing to be done for them is, as soon as you see the split bark, to quickly cut them off just below the split bark. Most will sprout healthy new growth and resume a rejuvenated life.


So now what? I'm done with hand-wringing, starting cleanup, proactive pruning, replanting too-far-gone flowers and vegetables evaluating borderline shrubs. It's about all I can do; like cleaning up after unruly party guests, I'm taking it in stride and hoping and planning that it doesn't happen again.


Felder Rushing is a Mississippi author, columnist, and host of the "Gestalt Gardener" on MPB Think Radio. Email gardening questions to [email protected]




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