Steve Bender

 

Would anyone care for some fried gardenia? Photo: mooreandmoore.com

The longer this cold winter goes on, the more plants (particularly evergreens) take it on the chin. Many look brown and dead, like a grilled squirrel (yum!). So people keep asking me if they should they prune off the brown stuff now or wait to see if the plant recovers.

Wait -- just a few weeks. You might be glad you did.

For a lot of folks, this has been the coldest winter in about 20 years. At my home in central Alabama, it dropped down to 7 degrees. We had three days straight where the temp didn't get above freezing. Now I know that all the Eskimos, Yetis, and Molson-swilling Canadians up north are laughing right now ("You think 7 degrees is cold? That's thong-wearing weather for us!"), but down here this kind of cold rarely happens. We think icicles are live creatures and they scare us.

Just walking up and down my street has revealed that certain plants were especially toasted. They include gardenia, loropetalum, creeping fig, creeping rosemary, wax myrtle,   oleander, Confederate jasmine, Southern Indica and Encore azaleas, and various hardy palms. Should you clip off the damage now?

No. If you're lucky, the plant will drop its brown foliage shortly and replace it with new leaves in spring. If you aren't, the plant will suffer either partial or full dieback. But the bottom line is you won't know how far back to cut until you see where the new growth starts. You may not have to prune at all. Or you may have to prune all the way to the ground.

A Ray of Hope Even if you end up cutting back your favorite plant to the ground, don't be too discouraged. A sizable plant will have a sizable root system. And those roots will want to grow back a new top right away.

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