Gardening: Let the survivors revive

Dead brush piled along a Laguna Vista street. Photo by Robert Lewis.

By Robert Lewis
Special to the PRESS

It’s been a month since the February 2021 freeze ended after nearly a full week of relentless cold winds of an arctic blast that made life miserable for the entire state of Texas and left our beautiful Rio Grande Valley tropical landscapes brown and dying.  

A lot has happened in this last month in trying to figure out the best method of handling the frozen remnants of our tropical lawns and gardens.  After the first week most people were in “shell shock” of the amount of devastation of their beautiful Royal Palms, Foxtail Palms and all their colorful Hibiscus, Croton and other specimen tropical foliage plants.  

A palm tree’s green, surviving roots peek out of its dead fronds on South Padre Island. Photo by Robert Lewis.

In Week 2, post freeze, the chainsaw brigades started arriving, and it seemed that we could not get rid of the “brown leaves and branches” quick enough. The debris is piling up along all of our neighborhood streets like we had after Hurricane Dolly; and I’m afraid it will still be coming for a long while.  

I was thinking of a while back when the city of South Padre Island would encourage people to take their leftover “cut Christmas Trees” to a location on the beach and they would be piled up to help restore the sand dunes. You know, that actually worked quite well, but then a lot of people would start leaving old ovens, refrigerators, mattresses and other junk, and that was discontinued.  I have always thought that would be a good thing to do with all of our palm tree trimmings throughout the year along with our freeze damage trimmings, but again it gets out of control and needs to be policed. 

I mentioned that there is more debris coming because there are still a lot of plants that people are hopefully thinking will survive.  We just need to see, because many of our trees are still in the fight for survival. We are seeing tree trunks splitting with their sap oozing down.  I was very surprised to see our Bottle Brush trees doing so well (after the freeze) throughout our area and then, just last week it was like a whistle blew and they all turned brown and look like they are still suffering.  On the other side of that, I was starting to get worried about a lot of our native trees and shrubs that had lost their leaves immediately after the freeze. Then, in one single day, I start seeing new leaflets sprout all throughout the area on many different varieties. It’s like ‘Ok, it’s day 30, and you can start growing again.’

With all of the chainsaw fury that I have seen over the past couple of weeks, I wonder if we have eliminated some of our trees and shrubs maybe a bit too quickly.  I myself have said from previous freeze damage experience that Ixora, Hibiscus, Plumeria, etc. were subjected to multiple hours of freezing temperatures that they cannot survive. But in a few cases there are some that survived because wind was blocked by another structure like in a corner or on the south side of the house and we are seeing a hint of green as if they might (hopefully) survive.  

This week I have seen many of our Esperanza, Duranta, Lantana and other hardy trees and perennials showing vibrant green healthy growth from ground level.  As the weather continues to warm up we will start seeing these plants continue to push out healthy new foliage from the ground level and possibly start sprouting slightly higher up the plant stems.  So let’s start slowing down our quick judgment of plant mortality and continue to be looking for survivors.

Last week’s article covered damage on “Floratam” St. Augustine grass from the cold weather.  Another week of sunny days and warmer temperatures are helping these lawns survive and revive quickly. The best tool you can get to help the lawn survive is a good quality leaf rake to help rake out the brown thatch that is mixed in your green grass.  By raking this out as soon as possible, it will let the green grass thicken and fill in faster.  Over at the golf course many lawns have the “Bermuda Tiff-Way 419” lawns.  These lawns have a lot of brown in them now, but this grass will survive.  

My suggestion is to wait until the emerging green grass gets close to a mowing height and then mow it and you will eliminate much of the dead grass that way.  Be sure to rake up the dead grass that is cut.  If you cannot wait to fertilize the lawn, it is very important to use an organic lawn food while the turf is reviving.    Products like Milorganite or Medina “Growin Green” will definitely help.  Please call if you have any questions.

EMERGENCY NOTICE!  The spring season is continuing as normal.  Get tomato plants in ASAP.  Remember these take 3 to 4 months to produce ripe fruit and it is very important to get these planted NOW.  The nurseries have them!  Remember tomato plants suffer from our summer heat.  Sorry, running out of room here, let’s cover this next week.  

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