Chalk it up to wintertime in the South – mild temperatures one day and frigid weather the next. One local gardening expert says the extent of the temperature changes that our area has seen over recent weeks might not be fully known until spring.
“With many plants, it is too early to determine the extent of damage,” said Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service Office for Richmond County. “We might not know the final damage until late spring. This is particularly true with fig because there is no foliage on the plants. The key point is to remain patient and not cut back plants that we think are dead.”
Mullis said the cold temperatures of recent weeks has already caused visible damage to some plants.
“Several years ago, my co-worker Bill Adams gave me some type of citrus tree that I planted in my backyard. It has not produced any fruit yet but has grown to be about eight feet tall,” said Mullis. “All the leaves have shriveled and are turning brown. It basically looks like drought stress during the heat of the summer. If the entire top dies, I hope it will at least sprout back out next spring from the roots.”
Mullis said all of the open flowers on his camellia bush were killed and he’s received reports that oleander, sago palms, eucalyptus and confederate jasmine were damaged. Other plants have also been affected by the weather.
“Almost every oleander I’ve seen, the whole top is brown,” he said.
But, Mullis said it’s really hard to know the full extent of the colder-than-usual temperatures until spring.
“Any camellias in tight buds that have not bloomed yet should be fine. Take a wait-and-see approach and do touch-up pruning in late March and April,” he said. “The things that don’t come back are those things that have just been planted in the past few months. They may not have enough root establishment to come back.”
Mullis notes that plants like oleander, confederate jasmine and fig vine might die to the ground, but should come back in the spring, so long as they have had more than one growing season.
“It is unlikely that some of these plants will be completely killed, but if it happens, replace them with the same variety of plants,” he said. “We only get these type freezes about every 10 to 15 years.
“On the positive side, the cold winter makes our plants more dormant so they can tolerate lower temperatures,” added Mullis. “With all the rain before the polar vortex, there was plenty of soil moisture, and plants that are well-hydrated can take the cold better.”