Will these five survive? Expert weighs in on deep freeze damage on five common plants

Ice covered the leaves of bushes and trees like this one in West Ashley in recent cold overnight weather. Buy this photo

It's been a brutal winter for the usually mild Lowcountry.

With two deep freezes, including the ice storm a week and a half ago, many of us are wondering what yard shrubs and plants will survive, even after trying to cover tropical and semi-tropical ones. Many look dead or near dead now.

But don't give up or get too down.

Local gardening guru and Post and Courier columnist Tony Bertauski says cold can actually stimulate better growing in the following season.

"Certain plants, such as hostas, have a chilling requirement, so there may be some unexpected surprises this summer," Bertauski says. But he also adds that cold damage on deciduous plants is hard to gauge.

"Certain varieties of hydrangea might exhibit significant damage when spring arrives. In this case, cutting back dead wood to allow for new growth is advisable."

Tony Keinath, a plant pathologist with Clemson University Coastal Research & Education Center and another gardening columnist, says the full extent of damage may not appear until one week after freezing temperatures.

He also offers some general advice about cold-damaged perennials:

Although woody plants should be pruned in the last half of February, wait to prune woody plants that were damaged until after new growth appears, so that it is clear how much tissue should be removed. Good examples are bottlebrush and crepe myrtle.

Some herbaceous perennials may take longer than usual to break dormancy this spring; be patient before removing them. Examples are salvias that go dormant, plumbago and lantana.

We picked five common Lowcountry yard plants -hydrangea, sago palm, bottlebrush, hibiscus and lantana - and asked John Millman, a horticul- tural expert at Hyam's Garden & Accent Store, on how likely these plants will survive and what to do when spring rolls around.

To the right are photos of the plants and Millman's take on them.

Hydrangea


This plant, which is not tropical, is a deciduous shrub that will survive freezing temperatures, says Millman. That said, hydrangea should be pruned a few inches to a foot, but no more than by one-third of the entire plant, between December and February. New buds should emerge at the beginning of March. Start the spring right by fertilizing the shrubs from mid-March to late March, depending on the latest weather forecasts,with an all-purpose fertilizer.

Sago palm


Millman says this a semi-tropical plant that will have some burn if exposed to frost. Damaged fronds need to be trimmed but not until just before mid-March. That ensures that new growth that emerges from pruning won't be damaged by a late frost. Meanwhile, expect new growth when night temperatures are consistently above 45 to 60 degrees. Fertilize in the spring with a palm-specific fertilizer.

Bottlebrush


Like the sago palm, bottlebrush is a semi-tropical that's prone to getting burned by frost. Millman says damaged branches should be trimmed in early to mid-April because, while unsightly, those brownish, or whitish, dead parts protect the vital crown and root system from any more damage from cold. Fertilize in the spring with an all-purpose fertilizer.

Hibiscus


This tropical shrub usually does not survive consistent frostings, says Millman. For that reason, hibiscus should be kept in a container and protected in winter. Trim any dead or damaged material in the spring and fertilize with an all-purpose fertilizer and a bloom booster in summer.

Lantana


Millman says this "tender perennial" can survive frost, but needs protection, such as a cover. Foliage always dies back after the first frost. Lantana should have been pruned back by two-thirds after the first hard freeze and after the green leaves have turned brown and fallen off. There's a strong likelihood that some lantana will not survive this winter's freezes. An easy indicator is to scratch the branches of the plants until you see green. Surviving lantana should be fertilized in the spring with an all-purpose fertilizer and in the summer with a bloom booster.



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