Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Great Freeze Event

It was a very cold week here in Georgia and over most of the country, of course. Who could forget the "Polar Vortex"? At my house, the lowest temperature was an overnight low of 5 degrees. There was one day that it didn’t get out of the teens! People all over were worried about their plants, but that temperature is not unheard of for USDA gardening zone 7a, which supports of low temp of 0 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.  

Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) wilts any time that temps
fall below 32F
Still, the low is unusual these days, so the question to answer this spring will be “How did they do?” We didn’t have any snow so that actually made some conditions a little harsher. 

In some cases we will have to wait until spring because some damage won’t be apparent until later. Don't make any drastic cuts right now on woody plants because they might be just fine.

Deciduous azalea bud during freeze event

Deciduous plants (those that don't have green leaves) are probably all ok. The event was early enough in the year that deciduous plants were fully dormant. On woody plants like trees and shrubs, leaf and flower buds were still tight and perfectly capable of dealing with the cold.

Evergreen plants are probably also ok, but some of their foliage might look a little ragged, especially evergreen herbaceous plants (that is, plants that are not woody). One branch on my front mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) is not looking good, but I suspect it might have had an issue (such as a small break) before the freeze.

I took some pictures of some of my evergreen woody plants to compare how well they fared. I present my findings to you, divided into two categories:

- those that looked terrible and recovered
- and those that looked fine the whole time

Those that looked terrible for a while include: Florida anise (Illicium floridanum) as shown above, Rhododendron and, to a lesser extent, mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), wax myrtle (Morella cerifera) and doghobble (Leucothoe axillaris). Those last 3 didn't look bad until the coldest day. All have recovered except the leaves on the wax myrtle still look a bit droopy. It's likely that the plant will have to replace some of those leaves, but overall the plant will survive.

Wax myrtle leaves a little droopy looking post-freeze

Those that looked fine the whole time were small-leaf viburnum (Viburnum obovatum) and climbing fetterbush (Pieris phillyreifolia). Both of those were really a surprise given that their native range is in the southern Coastal Plain, much further south of me.

Climbing fetterbush (Pieris phillyreifolia) during the freeze

Several days after the freeze we were in another weather pattern - a stormy Saturday morning gave way to temperatures in the low 60's. The Florida anise that was so pitiful just days earlier had rebounded perfectly, flaunting plump bright green leaves once more (and had even picked up a bug).

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