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Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014

Gardeners urged to be patient with plants damaged by freeze

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

(Photo)
TeresaWibbenmeyer, a Garden Lane Nursery associate, removes dead branches from plants.
SIKESTON -- When it comes to tending to trees, shrubs and plants post this month's hard freeze, experts say to just be patient this spring and summer.

"If a plant doesn't look right but still has green tissue below the surface bark or stem tissue, let it be. Give it some time," said Anthony Ohmes, agronomist for Mississippi County University of Missouri Extension.

The three-day freeze occurring around April 8 wiped out numerous fruit crops across the region and state. It damaged the wheat and corn crops, forcing farmers to replant thousands of acres of corn and play the waiting game with wheat.

And although there is some damage to ornamentals and perennials, they seem to have fared better than the rest.

In the past, when dormant buds of woody ornamentals have been observed, they might get a disease that can cause the leaves or a tree to defoliate and bud again.

"Unfortunately, this was not a single-event freeze. We had a freeze over three nights," Ohmes said.

If a freeze doesn't kill the plant, the plant may not get the full bloom or late season potential it would have, Ohmes said.

"For many of your plants that lost leaves, I just urge patience and to just see what develops. Many of these ornamentals have enough reserves and dormant buds that will break and come out of that," Ohmes said.

Shirley McCall, co-owner of Garden Lane Nursery in Sikeston, said she's received countless inquiries from customers about caring for their trees and shrubs following the freeze.

Locally, crape myrtles and hydrangeas were the plants most affected by the freeze, both Ohmes and McCall said.

"Most of those type of fast-growing shrubs, you should cut the damaged growth off to speed up the recovery process," McCall said.

To determine if a plant still has life, take a fingernail or knife and gently scrape back the tissue, Ohmes said. If green is observed, then the plant is still alive, he said.

"If there's still green in it, leave it, and it will flush back out," McCall said. Limbs that can be broken off easily often signify a dead plant, Ohmes said, adding it's better to replace the dead ornamentals in the fall than in the summer.

"Just be patient with your shrubbery and trim off anything that looks like it may have been burnt," McCall said.

Anyone wondering if their trees survived the freezing temperatures shouldn't be too quick to get the chainsaw.

"It is difficult to predict how many of the storm-damaged trees will respond. Unless they are an obvious hazard, it may be wise to wait for a year or two before removing trees that appear to have been hit hard," said Chris Starbuck, University of Missouri horticulturalist, in a news release. "Some trees that look hopeless may recover surprisingly quickly."

The most serious damage -- breaks or splits on the main trunk and massive branches -- usually occurs on large, mature trees. This sort of damage also is found on the silver maples and other trees where the branches grow at a narrow angle from the trunk, Starbuck said.

"A rule of thumb often mentioned by tree experts is that a tree that has lost less than 50 percent of its branches stands a reasonably good chance of recovering," Starbuck said.

Grasses -- both warm- and cool-season -- shouldn't have been affected by the freeze, Ohmes said, explaining warm season grasses such as Bermuda have a deep growing point.

However, anyone who sewed a new lawn before the freeze probably lost it, McCall said.

Meanwhile, McCall is looking with optimism to the rest of the growing season.

"I don't know if it's safe to say, but I feel pretty confident it's all behind us now," McCall said. "Get your tomatoes and peppers out, and plant your annuals."