By Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS Extension
As I’m writing this article, we are still riding the roller coaster of temperature that is typical of early spring in Northwest Florida. Early March was warm, so my winter dormant (and yes, freeze damaged) plants started to sprout new leaves. In mid-March we hit freezing again and all the new foliage turned brown. Exhausting and disappointing to say the least, but I am confident and want to encourage you to have faith that these plants are not dead yet!
As Spring progresses we should be on a steady warming trend. So, what signs of life should you be looking for? Let’s break it down by plant category.
Herbaceous perennials or non-woody plants such as daylily, agapanthus, firebush, banana, and firespike will normally turn brown with freezing temperatures then resprout from the crown after soil and air temperatures warm up in the spring. If the crown was protected from further exposure to cold or extremely wet conditions (which can cause rot) you should start to see buds, stems, or tissue emerging by the end of April. Resist the urge to fertilize when you first see green growth or you will trigger the plant to expend limited energy resources that should be focused on supporting new growth.
If you haven’t already done so clean up dead, dried foliage. Monitor rainfall and water plants only if needed while new leaves are expanding. A general rule of thumb is that plants may need supplemental water if we have less than 1” of rainfall in a week and you see foliage wilting.
Woody plants (trees, shrubs)
By the end of April, you should start seeing flowers or leaves on most trees. If not, look for swollen buds that indicate emergence is imminent. If there is no activity at all the final test is to gently flex the stems to see if there is resistance indicating live tissue and water content. Another method is to lightly scrape surface of stems to see if there is green tissue underneath. Flexible stems, buds, or green woody tissue are all indications that the plant is still alive. Again, supply supplemental water if conditions are dry and delay fertilization.
Citrus or other grafted fruit
Be aware of where the graft union is on your tree and watch for growth below this point. It is typically located on the lower portion of the trunk and is usually easy to spot because there is a knobby section of the trunk where the two different trees are fused together.
If you have growth from the rootstock it should be removed. Allowing sprouts from the rootstock to grow will detract energy needed for the grafted tree to recover.
Palms can take a lot longer to show signs of life after a freeze, so be extra patient with them. Palms typically grown in this area have one growing point, called the apical bud, which is located in the canopy. It takes an average of 6 months for the bud to produce a frond and emerge which can be delayed by stress. It is also not uncommon for fronds to be misshapen or partially dead after a significant event such as a hard freeze, so do not despair if the first frond you see looks strange. The fact that anything sprouted is reason to have hope! Although palms can be slow to show signs of life also be on the lookout for telltale signs of decay and instability such as shelf mushrooms or conks growing from the trunk. Also inspect trunks for soft spots that can also indicate internal rot.
For more information about these topics or other landscape topics visit https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ or contact the UF/IFAS Extension Bay County office at (850) 248-8091.
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