Assessing Freeze Damage

by Bob Albanese

It has been only 3 weeks since the cold weather and everyone seems to be “chomping at the bit” to get out there and do winter clean up, but whoa Nellie — hold off on the pruning.

Unfortunately it is still too early to prune. The damage done by the freeze is still manifesting in many of the plants. In my own yard the first week after the freeze things looked pretty good and I had very little visible damage. Now two weeks later it looks like someone torched the leaves of many of my previously untouched plants.

Some considerations are:
If at two weeks after a freeze you have plants that got damaged by the cold and the leaves have turned brown and they are still hanging on the plants, it is a very bad sign. These parts of the plants where the leaves are still hanging onto the branches are probably dead or dying. However, do NOT remove them yet! The leaves that are holding on are still serving a purpose, they are protecting the undamaged parts of the plant by acting as umbrellas that will catch later frosts, and they are insulating the stems against another freeze.

Some plants show no signs of any green under the tender bark on the trunk, if so those areas are in fact dead, but if further down you see bits of very dark green just below the tender bark these areas are still manifesting freeze damage. Unfortunately the full extent of the damage is not known yet.


If you see staining and or bleeding on the trunk, this is also a bad sign but not necessarily proof of death, again patience is advised.


Some plants have the ends or tips of their branches shriveling and turning soft, these parts are dead, but the damage is probably not complete yet. Again be patient for a few more weeks.


Posted: January 29, 2010

Category: Home Landscapes

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