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The garden after a freeze, plants dealing with frost.

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James Kilkelly
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PostPosted: Thu Jan 08, 2009 8:48 pm    Post subject: The garden after a freeze, plants dealing with frost. Reply with quote

The garden after a freeze, plants dealing with frost.
by GPI

Jeepers, those were a nippy few days, it seemed to me that the lawn got progressively whiter each morning. As bad as the frost was we could still get indoors, flick on the heating or spark up a fire to shake off the cold. Our poor perishing garden plants didn't have such luxuries unfortunately.

It's only over the next few weeks that the full extent of the damage the frost caused to our garden plants will become apparent. Depending on your location and aspect, the damage will vary from minimal to moderate, as thankfully severely low temperatures were not sustained on this occasion. How long the freezing period lasts has a big say on the damage done, with alternate freezing and thawing being extremely damaging.

How does frost damage our plants? Well, it damages them by turning the liquid within their cell walls to ice crystals; this expands and bursts the cell walls, leaving the plant in a sorry state. This will often kill tender plants, leaving hardier species scorched at the very least.

This example of Griselinia littoralis grown as a hedge has had its tips blackened by frost, photo / picture / image.

So, use a respite in the freezing weather to check your plants for damage. Here are a few of the common garden questions that come up every time a hard freeze passes and gardeners begin to tentively re-enter their gardens.

Question. How do I assess any damage to my collection of assorted trees, shrubs, perennials and hedging?

Answer. Often confused with the effects of pests and diseases, it's worth your while noting what frost damage actually looks like. It generally appears as blackened or browned leaf tips and shoots, often wilting and curling due to the ruptured cells within the shoots. After a while these burned areas become hardened and brittle, their paper-thin form becoming easily crushed between your fingers.

Flower buds and those flowers already fully open may become soft, squishy, and discoloured, usually brown. A prime example of this is the occasional frost damage exhibited by an early blooming Camellia or Magnolia.

If buds are damaged, look deeper into the plant for live buds and stems. This will often tell you how deeply the plant is damaged. With perennials for example, although their top leaves may be browned, if you lift them you may find healthy buds and roots beneath.
Basically if there is a bit of freshness still to the plant (green or white sappy tissue when cut) then your babies have every chance of making a full recovery.

Question. Should I cut off the burnt bits now to allow my plants put on fresh growth?

Answer. Well I will answer that question with another. Do you reckon that we have had the last of the harsh frosts for the year? If you do, go ahead and prune, but you are a grittier gardener than I am.

You see, you could cut away the damaged growth, the plant could then produce new buds, only to heartbreakingly have them scalded off by a late frost. Beware that sniper frost which lies in wait for its chance to strike a second time at gardeners who thought they were doing well by their plants.

If you can put up with the look of brown/black foliage please hold fire on the hard pruning until we are out of the frost likely months. From March onwards is usually pretty safe. Waiting until spring growth appears takes the guesswork out of it, just trim off anything dead or damaged looking to above the new growth.

Question. Should I give my plants extra water and fertiliser to perk them up after frost damage?

Answer. Extra water won't help and you should wait until after the removal of the damaged areas when new growth starts appearing before you begin fertilising.

Overall, be patient; your garden has a way of regulating itself, and things will look much better during the heat-wave summer we are promised (fingers-crossed).

Any queries or comments on Frost in your garden, How to protect your plants, please post below.

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