26 September, 2022

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Home » Your garden froze, now what? Texas A&M experts answer your questions

Your garden froze, now what? Texas A&M experts answer your questions

I scratched the bark on my prolific Meyer lemon tree, and when I saw green flesh underneath, my heart soared. The leaves are brown, drooping and dropping, but I have hope.

I’m not an avid gardener, but I like to have a pretty yard. So when like-minded area residents started emailing with questions about one plant or another, I turned to experts for answers.

Two Texas A&M extension agents — Larry Stein, a horticulture professor, and Brandi Keller, who coordinates the Harris County master gardener program — answer our first batch of questions after the freeze.

If you have questions, send them, along with photos, and we’ll report answers in future Saturday gardening stories.

Q: I’ve lived in my home for 45 years and twice, after extensive freezes, have torn down all of the fig ivy. I’m getting older, so I’m wondering if I need to tear it all down again or whether it will fall off on its own? Will it resprout and re-grow from the base plants in the ground?

A: Fig ivy (Ficus pumila) is an evergreen vine that can grow aggressively on walls, fences, or flat on the ground, Keller says. As a clinging vine, its young stems produce roots and root hairs which produce a sticky substance that allows it to cling to cracks and surfaces. Older parts of the stem become woody and cling less.

A hard freeze may kill part of the vine or all of it back to the ground. Wait a few weeks to see where it sprouts, then remove in sections by cutting and clearing out as many stems as possible. Let it dry, then carefully scrape away roots. If the vines have died, they will not fall off on their own.

Q: The leaves on my gardenia bush are brown and withered, but when I scratch the bark underneath, it’s still green. Should I remove the dead leaves? What hope do I have that my bushes will live?

A: Gardenias are not cold hardy and temperatures below 20 degrees can kill part, or even all, of the plant that is above ground, Keller says. Damage may be visible now, with brown leaves, or it may show up later, such as deadening of the stems. The scratch test is a good indicator of live wood and gives us hope that all is not lost, but some damage may be yet to come. It is best to wait it out and see where new growth emerges, then prune from there. Don’t expect blooms this year.

In the meantime, prune broken branches and keep the soil moist, but not too wet. If the plant did not need fertilizer before the freeze, then it is not needed now. If it is applied, do so after sufficient regrowth. Many times, what freeze-damaged plants really need is our patience.

Q: Out in Washington County I fear that I’ve lost my peach crop, and I’m wondering how our wild blackberry bushes will fare?

A: A closer look at peach buds in the area shows that some look amazingly good, says Stein. If your trees were totally dormant, they may still set fruit. If the tree was pushing buds and blooms, then it is more likely that those buds and blooms are all dead. Variety will play a big role in which peach trees and stone fruit trees produce a crop.

As for wild blackberries, those plants were dormant, so you should still get a crop this year if the plant was healthy, Stein says. If you had a big crop last year, that may have an effect on this year’s crop. Simply put, when a plant has expended all its food reserves, a harsh cold spell can actually kill it because it doesn’t have sufficient stored carbohydrates to protect itself from the cold. I would be cautiously optimistic about your next blackberry crop, Stein says.