Gardening: Saving the survivors

By Robert Lewis
Special to the PRESS

Wow, was that one heck of a storm. 

Photo by Robert Lewis.

I have spent today, Saturday Feb. 20, unwrapping plants, removing the Plumerias and Desert Rose out of the garage, picking up plastic sheeting and bed sheets and trying to get everything in the yard to not look like a freezing hurricane blew through.  One thing for sure is we all have a lot to do over the next few weeks to try and see where we stand with our frozen plants.  Another thing for sure is keeping up with the falling dead, brown leaves blowing throughout the neighborhood streets.  With so much to cover on trying to save our plants, we better get going. 

Some of the most obvious concerns are all of the brown tropical palms throughout the area.  The favorites, “Fox Tail Palms” and “Royal Palms,” are noticeably, badly damaged.  Quickly, within the last couple of days, the damage is becoming more obvious.  The larger, better established Royal Palms are more likely to survive, but it takes time for them to revive.  I hate to say it, but very many of the smaller Royal Palms that had just been planted in the last couple of years are very much at risk. What can we do?  

First let’s remove any damaged palm fronds that have immediately collapsed and have fallen downward.  These palm fronds will slowly be dying from the bottom up.  What we need to hope for is that the tree can maintain its newest growth and hopefully the newest fronds will stay green and continue to develop like normal. On palms, how you determine the health of the tree is if the crown of the tree is continuing to push out new growth.  Over the next couple of months you need to continue watering the tree like normal, fertilize like you would for the beginning of spring season using a good palm tree fertilizer and Epsom salts, but keep an eye on these trees that the crown stays green.  If not these trees may just slowly die and suddenly just fold over which can be damaging in the case of the very large mature trees.  

Some of our favorite tropical shrubs have been devastated. Ixora, Hibiscus, Crotons throughout the area look as if they have been hit by a flamethrower.  Sadly the Ixora is probably not going to survive.  My experience with freeze damage on Ixora is it takes years for them to respond to the severe cutback that they need.  I would suggest buying new plants and replacing your totally brown plants. 

Hibiscus, depending on how exposed they were to the brunt of the strong continual north winds, if they were somewhat protected they can survive.  You will need to monitor the damage by regularly scratching the bark, checking for green underneath the bark.  Again, continue your normal watering and fertilizing as you would do in springtime and hopefully they will rebound.  All Crotons look very bad now, but they can sometimes surprise you by dropping all of their leaves and in a few weeks generate new leaves, as I have seen this happen in other freezes, but this cold front was very strong.  Take your time in making the call on if these survived.  If they have not re-sprouted new foliage by late March, they probably did not survive.  

The Wedelia ground cover looks like blankets of brown now, but try to cut these back to about 2 to 3 inches tall and they will probably slowly turn green again.  Don’t hesitate to take the weed eater to Wedelia and cut it back – it needs this now.  If the brown foliage stays on too long, it will block the sunlight from getting to the healthier stems and inhibit new growth and eventually will die out totally.

Photo by Robert Lewis.

Many ferns have a lot of brown foliage now, but will probably survive.  On “Macho Fern” or “Kimberly Fern” cut these down to the crown, water them with fish emulsion or your favorite organic plant food and these will look beautiful again in a very short time.  The popular “Foxtail Fern” can be saved as well.  Carefully cut the brown stems down to the base of the plant and they probably will come back slowly. 

Soft stemmed plants such as “Philodendron Selloum,” “Xanadu Philodendron” and “Elephant Ear” plants have instantly turned to mush.  Other plants like “Keifer Lilly,” “Beach Spider Lily” etc., also show the freeze damage immediately and you need to clean up the frozen parts of the plant quickly.  This will be kind of an “icky” job as the damaged foliage turns to a slimy mess, often you can see where the freeze damage ends and you will find a firm base of the plant. Once the damage is removed these plants will be able to have a chance to survive.  If you wait to clean these plants up, the job gets messier to handle and the damaged part of the plant will start to stink, making it a very undesirable job to do.

In closing this week, the damage to these plants occurred within the last 10 days.  It is time to take action and start the job of trying to save and salvage your freeze damaged plants. The one thing in our favor, given our location of Deep South Texas is the normal “spring energy” will help us (hopefully) and by monitoring your plants and cutting off damaged growth it will be like a normal spring pruning.  Continue caring for the injured plants like you would normally by providing normal spring care of watering and fertilizing, and you may be able to save your old plants and save some money as well. With so much landscape devastation over the entire state of Texas, expect new plant material to be both scarce and expensive.  

Good Luck; and I will continue with more on freeze damage next week.

Editor’s Note: Robert Lewis is the owner and operator of R. Lewis Landscaping. Give him a call at (956) 371-0647.

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1 comment

    • Danny Davis on March 23, 2021 at 12:22 pm
    • Reply

    Thanks for the info. We are trying to determine extent of damage to our Royal Palms. We will need to have them trimmed.

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