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How Can I Save My Garden After Last Month's Icy Weather?

David Martin Davies
Texas Public Radio

Even mature and the best-wrapped plants and shrubs in San Antonio sustained damage as temperatures dropped below freezing for a combined 150 hours during the recent winter blast.

This Q&A was sourced from TPR’s conversations with horticulturist David Rodriguez of the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension Service; Director of Horticulture at the San Antonio Botanical Garden, Andrew Labay; Calvin Finch, gardening columnist and co-host of the "Gardening South Texas" radio show; and Neil Sperry, author and host of four radio shows carried weekly on stations across Texas.

How will I know if my plant needs to be replaced?

Cut a plant down to ground level and pull mulch away to allow the sun to bring out new growth at the base. If new growth does not appear soon after, the plant will need to be replaced.

Is my palm dead?

There are 2,600 species of palm, but only a couple of dozen varieties can take the normal low temperatures in San Antonio. Once temperatures get to the low 20s, palm leaves become damaged. It’s not that uncommon for palms to lose their leaves in severe winters and then come out fresh in the spring. There’s one place in particular on a palm to keep your eyes on: From above the palm, look into the center; that’s where new fronds emerge from. If that part is still firm, that’s a good sign that the palm will be OK.

What can I prune? And when should I prune?

Be patient, wait three to four weeks. We're two weeks into that now. You're going to see budding on some of your plants, and then you're going to see some other plants that aren’t budding out already, and maybe they won't bud. It will vary plant by plant by plant.

Don’t get too eager with your pruning shears. Make sure they’re sharp and clean.

If I don’t prune, will it hurt my trees?

No, I think I think we're better off waiting. We still have the potential for some more freezing. Opening up the plants is a risk if there’s more freezing. Just give the plant some time to identify what's alive and then react to that.

|RELATED: Ask The Experts: How Can You Revive Your Texas Garden After Harsh Winter Weather |

So, does that mean it’s too early to plant some things?

There's probably a good chance we're done with the freezes, but that doesn't mean it's not too early to plant certain plants. The soil’s too cold, the air temperature is too cold. There's a lot of decisions that are related to the trigger weather, and not just the freeze damage.

What about my lawn?

You just have to wait. This is the time to put out a pre-emergent weed killer treatment if you're trying to prevent crabgrass and graspers. Texas A&M recommends not to put it out on St. Augustine grass, if you think there's any chance that you will have to replant it. Don't rush to fertilize, you're not going to make it come out greener faster by fertilizing earlier because the soil has to warm up. Use a broadleaf weed killer spray containing 2 4-D to get rid of clover and dandelions. Just let it go on its course. Mow it down low to discourage the weeds.

If I scrape at a branch and there’s green under, is the plant OK?

That’s one way to check. It's just one of the one of the methods to determine whether the plan is going to make it or not, but you don't want to rely on it too much. The relationship of “plant to freeze damage” is just too complex to rely entirely on your fingernails and the green stems.

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