The Effects of Freezing Temperatures in January 2018 Now Showing Up in Landscapes and Gardens

Posted On May 11, 2018— Written By and last updated by

From personal observations of plants in the landscape, reports from fellow Extension Agents, and calls from concerned homeowners has made it apparent that the subfreezing temperatures we had the first week of January, 2018 caused damage to a number of our plants. This damage has occurred on both food and ornamental plants. Symptoms due to damage from freezing conditions are usually observed when home gardeners notice that their plants are not leafing out in the spring such as a fig bush or that the canopy of a landscape plant such as Indian Hawthorn is dead or almost completely dead looking with the majority of the leaves either missing or hanging on and brown. Some of the plants that have shown winter injury in our region of North Carolina are figs, Indian Hawthorn, Pittosporum, crape myrtle, gardenia, and camellia.

Symptoms of winter injury can look similar to other plant-damaging factors, but if the plants in question are among those I have mentioned (as well as some I have not included) and it looked healthy last fall, then it is likely that the plant is not looking healthy or is dead this spring as a result of winter injury.

The follow-up question once someone determines that the plant is either dead or almost dead due to winter injury is, “What should I do with the plant?” For a plant such as a fig, I would wait a few more weeks. If the main branches do not leaf out, then I would cut them back to almost the ground. I would watch for new growth from the root system and nurture those. For plants like Indian Hawthorne, if you have more than 50% of the canopy dead, then I would remove it and put back another if you would like. If less than 50% of the canopy is dead, then I would cut out the dead wood and nurture these plants as well. For any of these plants that you keep, it would be good to give them a small amount of 10-10-10 fertilizer (from less than a handful for a small shrub such as an Indian Hawthorn to 2 or 3 handfuls to a large fig bush) by applying it at the dripline (below the outer edges of the plants canopy). Also, if it gets very dry this summer, you may want to keep the root zone moist but not too wet during the dry period.

If you have questions about this topic, contact your local Extension Center and if in Pasquotank County, contact the Pasquotank County Center at 252-338-3954.

Dead shrub image

This shrub most likely was killed by the freezing temperatures we experienced in the Elizabeth City area in early-January of 2018