First of all, it is impossible to predict how much damage has occurred to plants
in different areas of the country. Freeze damage accumulates, so areas that went
below freezing for long periods of time could be hurt worse than areas that got colder,
but were not below freezing as long. Also, not all the damage will be obvious as
soon as the temperatures warm up; it may take several days before the full extent
of the damage to plants becomes obvious.
Many plants had lush, new growth and this growth will be the most heavily damaged.
All damaged plant tissue should be removed because diseases can start in the damaged
tissue and move into the new growth as it emerges. Most freeze-damaged plants would
benefit from a light amount of fertilizer and proper watering to help feed the plants
and speed the recovery process. The best way to treat the plants will depend on the
variety; here are some recommendations for the most common plants:
The best treatment for all trees is to strip (by hand) the damaged leaves and young
twigs off the plants. All trees have secondary buds and these will begin flushing
out once the damaged leaves and twigs are removed.
Most fruit trees bloom in the spring. If the trees haven t bloomed yet, then the
blooms are probably damaged. For trees that have already bloomed, then the flowers
were probably pollinated, but the young fruit was probably damaged and will most
likely fall off the trees. All of the damaged leaves, twigs, flower buds and fruit
should be stripped from the trees.
Slow-Growing Shrub varieties such as Althea, Lilacs and Viburnum: low-growing shrubs
should have the damaged new growth stripped off. Try not to cut these plants back
because it will take too long for the plant to recover from being cut back before
new growth will begin again.
Fast-Growing Shrub varieties such as Crapemyrtle, Hydrangea, Spiraea and Weigela:
Fast-growing shrubs should have the damaged new growth cut off to speed up the recovery
process. These plants will respond quickly to shearing and begin new growth rapidly.
Besides the lush, emerging new growth, the next part of the plants that is most
susceptible to freeze damage are the flower buds.
Spring-blooming Shrub Varieties:
Spring-blooming shrubs that had flower buds present will probably lose the flower
buds and won t bloom later this spring (or at best, very weakly). If the flower
buds are black, then they are dead and need to be removed. If the flower buds are
still green, then they should be left on the plants because they could still bloom.
Even if the flower buds appear to be okay, there s a chance that as the flower buds
open the petals could show some discoloration from the freezing weather.
Summer-Blooming Shrub Varieties and Re-Blooming Spring Shrub Varieties:
Summer-blooming shrubs probably have not begun forming the flower buds yet, so their
blooming should not be affected. Some shrubs bloom in spring and re-bloom throughout
the season, such as Endless Summer Hydrangea, Blushing Bride Hydrangea, Abelia and
Weigela. These varieties may lose their flower buds this spring, but form more buds
and bloom later this spring and early summer.
Most conifer should have minimal damage, if any. Conifer that had new growth just
emerging, such as Spruce and Yews, will probably drop the needles and begin re-growth
in several weeks. If this happens, then any twigs that are left after the needles
have dropped, should be cut back to the healthy green part of the branches.
Most shrub roses held up well through the freezing weather, but new growth may have
been damaged. If so, cut off the damaged tissue and the plants will re-grow very
The new flush of most ornamental grasses will probably need to be cut off. The growing
point for ornamental grasses is down in the crown (at or below the soil surface)
and probably wasn t damaged, so once the damaged tissue is removed, the plants will
begin new growth very quickly.
Like ornamental grasses, the growing point for most of the perennials is in the
crown of the plant, so once the damaged tissue is removed the plants should recover
Annuals and Tropicals:
All annuals and tropicals should have been moved inside heated areas. If not, then
the plants are probably dead or have severe dieback.