Don’t fret; many local plants will survive recent frigid temperatures

Published 12:06 am Sunday, March 2, 2014

The severe winter has left most gardeners wondering about damage to their favorite plants.

One of the most common plants in Natchez is the sago palm. It is not a true palm; it is actually a cycad. You see damaged fronds all over town now. There is some good news.

Sagos can normally survive with temperatures down to 15 degrees, so as bad as they look, they are probably going to make it. Be patient. Sagos have a slow growth habit; therefore, recovery is slow.

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Hold off on pruning your sagos until new growth appears. The damaged fronds will provide protection if we get another freeze. When you do prune, cut only those fronds that are completely dead. Cut them as close to the trunk as possible. After you prune, fertilize with epsom salts. Scatter a half cup of salts and work in lightly. You can do this every two months through the fall.

Windmill palms and Mexican Fan palms are both hardy. They will survive with temperatures well into the teens and do not normally show any signs of damage. Majestic palms are one of my patio favorites but should be brought into the house if possible in the winter. If kept outside they will generally survive with temperatures a little below freezing. Simply cut them back and wait for new growth. Unfortunately, it was too cold for them to survive outside this year.

Another Natchez favorite is oleander. Don’t be disheartened as you drive around town and see what look like dead plants. Even if it gets down to zero degrees, oleander can be cut down all the way to the ground and will grow back. Hopefully you won’t have to go that far. After risk of frost has passed, cut back to live growth. Some dwarf oleander varieties may not survive when temperatures get into the low 20s. Of course, as with any plant, it depends on the location of the plant and how long the cold temperatures last.

Most lantanas will survive. Cut them all the way back and be patient. They have a slow growth habit, particularly trailing lantana.

The same answer usually applies to plumbago. In warmer climates they are evergreen. In Natchez, they normally drop their leaves but come back quickly when the old wood is cut off. This winter was probably too cold for them to survive. If you are determined, cut them to the ground and see if a miracle comes along!

That leaves our tropical looking favorites like canna, elephant ear and gingers. Most will tolerate brief freezes during their dormant period. Again, survival depends on how much protection their location provides. Most should be fine this year.

You can do a couple of simple things to minimize freeze damage next year.

First, put down a good layer of mulch in the fall. Second, when freezing temperatures are expected, make sure all plants are thoroughly watered. As the water freezes it releases heat which insulates the root systems.

Enough about freezing temperatures — get out in the garden and enjoy!

For the March gardening calendar see page 3C.


Karen O’Neal is an Adams County Master Gardener.