Can you believe a couple of days ago, we were feet deep in blinding white snow? If you are taking a look at your plants today, you probably believe it. It can be disheartening when you finally begin to assess if your plants have survived the intense freeze of last week. We know many of you took our advice over the past few weeks about getting freeze protection; we sold out of frost cloth in record time. However, even plants that are normally considered winter hardy might have taken a beating due to the pure duration of the freeze. But chin up, there still is a possibility that some of your plants, though damaged, might actually pull through. (But…it could be weeks before you really know.)
How do you know when a plant is damaged by freeze beyond revival? It’s not a quick or easy answer. Sometimes it truly is a waiting game. Sometimes it is a guessing game. I know that is not what you want to quite hear right now, but it’s true. Due to the many microclimates in our city, and even in our own landscapes, you have to really investigate your plants individually.

We can’t put out a statement saying, “Anyone in this zip code…. will need to replace all plants.” Or vice versa, “Anyone in this zip code… all your plants will be fine.” Both those statements would be untrue. See those two pictures of the same variety of salvia planted in two different areas of my yard. The second one has new growth, totally unscathed by the freeze, and the first one looks dead top to bottom. Will it come back from the roots once the weather warms completely? I’ll have to let you know. Every year it has so far, but this year was like no other.


Salvia plants with freeze damage.
Freeze damage but new growth on salvia plants.

The extent of freeze damage has many variables. Some variables that would make freeze damage more prevalent are:

  • Was your plant recently planted?
  • Did you prune before the freeze and already have new growth?
  • Were your plants tropical to subtropical?
  • Were your plants succulents?
  • Did your fruit trees already have flowers. (Your tree could be fine, but you might not get fruit this year.)
  • Did you forget to take all precautions to protect plants with frost cloth, blankets, heating lamps, etc….
  • Did you remember to tell your plants you loved them and you wanted to see them on the other side of this freeze?

Seriously though, we know it’s hard when you lose your beloved plants, and we’re Texans…we are ready for our spring gardening season! Our best advice with this recent freeze is to use these guidelines, and that’s all they are, to assess freeze damage in your plants and to help figure out what to do next.

What to do with your plants after the freeze.

Freeze damage usually makes plant material look dark, with a water soaked appearance. The black color of the plant material turns to brown and then dries. Gross! Now what?

1. Wait! Don’t hastily pull out freeze damaged plants.

Native plants and zone 8 perennials and shrubs might start generating new growth within the next few weeks if the weather continues to warm.

Plants that love the hot weather (think Pride of Barbados, Duranta, FireCracker Fern, etc…) will take much longer to reach out from their roots.

This will be one of the harder things to do because we’re going from day temperatures of 19° to 70 in a matter of days. It blows our minds and we want to be planting. If you have plants you love in your landscape, wait, and give them time to come back.

2. Wait! Don’t be so hasty to prune freeze damaged plants. 

Yes, freeze damaged plants are UGLY, but if you can stand the ugly for a little while longer, it can help protect the rest of the plant is there is another….I don’t want to say it….late freeze! Sorry, but the truth is weather is unpredictable, and the groundhog did say 6 more weeks of winter.

You can clearly see the freeze damage in the first close up picture of plumbago. Can you see the healthy plant material underneath the freeze damage in the second picture? Waiting to prune until warmer weather when new growth starts to develop also helps you know where you should make your cuts when it is time to prune.

When you do prune in a few weeks, make selective cuts. Start at the farthest part of branches, limbs and stems, and make gradual cuts until you hit fresh plant material.

* While you are being patient with your plants, please also be patient with us. Both locations, 5 plus acres, also went through the freeze with you. While a huge effort went in to protect our plant material, we lost some too. Deliveries are on the way, but everyone’s schedules are mixed up. We are working diligently to get you plant material as quickly as possible to replace your losses from the freeze.

Close up of freeze damage on plumbago plants.
Plumbago plants with freeze damage.

3. Wait a few days after the freeze to assess plants.

Assess if a plant has been freeze damaged by using a knife or your fingernail to gently scrape back bark on a branch. Check for healthy plant tissue that will look light cream to green in color. Then go back to guideline #2 and Wait.

Have an extremely attentive eye when assessing freeze damage. If you don’t get down and peer closely, pushing damaged shoots aside, you just might miss the tender new shoots coming up from the roots. Give your perennials, natives, and normally Texas-hardy, plants the benefit of the doubt and see if they perform for you.

4. Wait to fertilize, but offer normal amounts of water (don’t go overboard).

You don’t need to fertilize and push new growth just yet. Let’s make sure we are out of the woods with the cold snaps. Water, however, can help plants recover. Check the soil around your damaged plants like you normally would. (Stick in finger 2 inches to feel for moisture.) If dry, water normally. Don’t think that dumping a ton of water on your plants is servicing them. No need to overwater, just resume a regular water schedule.

5. Wait and decide if you even want the freeze damaged plant.

No need to run out to the nursery to buy another plant to replace the exact species if you don’t really think you like it much. Not to be heartless, but there were a couple of plants in my landscape that I was happy to say, “Good Riddance!” They were plants that caused me angst on a regular basis, so when the freeze took them on and won, I didn’t care. (You might be able to see in the pics below why I didn’t shed any tears for the freeze damaged fig ivy that was overstaying its welcome.)

If you know you don’t care much about the plant, it’s damaged anyways and you just don’t want to wait to get rid of it, THEN you can yank it out. You only need to fight the wait for those plants you truly love. Maybe you can replace the jilted plant with a beautiful native that is more apt to beat the weather odds anyways.

Fig Ivy
Fig Ivy
So what can you DO while we are telling you to wait?

1. Research New Plants.

Take a look at our Plant Finder tool that is located on our Learning Center page. While the plants listed in the plantfinder tool are not necessarily indicitive of what we have in stock at the current time, they are plants we generally carry or have carried before.

Our Plant Finder tool is great for researching plants you are thinking of incorporating into your landscape. It’s a great way to make a wish list that you can then cross reference with our plants at Rainbow Gardens.

2. Buy your soil, soil amendments, compost to prepare for spring planting.

Maybe one of your freeze damaged plants had been around for years and you never got around feeding the soil. Don’t pull out a plant and plop a new one in its place before making sure the soil is healthy and ready to offer your new plant an amazing home.

3. Take a moment to mourn your plants if you need to, then take a deep breath and think warm thoughts of spring. It is still coming.

If you do need to replace some of your plants, know that we are here for you. It’s also a great time to plant in early spring. We’ll keep offering up tips to help you through this; right now, try and be patient with your plants and wait. Before you know it, it will be the heat that we battle instead of the cold! Best of luck!

~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy