Even though the New Orleans area isn’t seeing the amount of snow or freezing temperatures like other areas around us, many of the heat-loving plants that make up our landscapes are feeling the pain of this cold weather. Luckily, there are things we can do now and after the cold weather passes to ensure that our plants hang around for a while longer.
BEFORE A FROST OR FREEZE
Remember to mulch the soil around plants and shrubs. Mulching protects the roots of plants and helps to minimize heat loss. Mulch can also help retain soil moisture.
Plant parts that touch plastic during a freeze likely will be damaged. This is why you should cover exposed plants with a blanket first and then with plastic. Make sure coverings drape to the ground. Anchor them with rocks, bricks or soil to keep wind out and allow heat retention. Remember to remove these protective coverings from the plant canopy after cold temperatures have passed
While not relevant to our current wet weather conditions, if it is not going to rain, you should water plants thoroughly. This is because moist ground stays warmer than dry ground.
AFTER A FROST OR FREEZE
Check the water needs of plants after a freeze. Water that is still in the soil may be frozen and unavailable to the roots and plants can dry out. To make sure a plant is getting its needed water, apply water to thaw the soil and the ice. It is best to water in the afternoon or evening the day after a freeze so plants have had a chance to slowly raise their temperature.
Wait to prune plants until new growth appears in late winter or early spring. Pruning plants now can make them more vulnerable during cold temperatures. Also, in the spring, the damage from cold temperatures will be more obvious so you can more easily remove the damaged parts of the plants.
To determine if the wood of a plant has been injured by the cold weather check the layer directly under the bark by carefully scratching through the bark layer. Undamaged plants will show a green layer, while injured plants will show a brown or black layer. Prune the plant’s wood below the discoloration.
To see if your fruit plants have been damaged by the cold temperatures, wait several days after a freeze and remove several flower buds from the plants. Use a sharp knife or razor blade to cut a cross section of the bud’s top. If there is any discoloration in the bud, the bud has been damaged and will not produce fruit. Check several buds from different areas of the plant or tree to see if the damage is localized to only one area or not.