We’ve been through so much together: this pandemic, this recent freeze. If you are reading this, you have survived. That’s no small thing — take a small moment to appreciate that fact.
The snow melted as quickly as it settled, it seems. The warmth returned, and we are so grateful for it. But it feels a bit as though, along with the sun, came a sense of urgency — a rush to return to that elusive “normal” we’ve all had our eye on since about a year ago, at least.
Of course, meeting the baseline needs of normalcy — clean water, power — is of the utmost importance. Once we’ve secured those essentials, we can begin to survey the landscape of all we’ve survived.
For plant lovers, that means looking around to find a lot of sad plants.
The leafy friends who have brought us so much joy amidst uncertainty, focus and hope through grief — well, they’re not looking so well after this week. We might feel the urge to, despite it all, just toss ‘em. Get back to green immediately.
There will certainly be losses, yes. More tropical plants that might have survived past winters likely didn’t weather the storm. But as nature tends to remind us, over and over again, there is balance, there is survival. There is hope.
Don’t start ripping up your plants because they appear frozen. Many plants with established root systems have a decent chance of returning this spring. Defoliation on evergreens does not mean they are dead. Some perennials come back as late as May or June after hard winters.
As with any traumatic experience, cold damage can take time to fully manifest. It has only been a few days since the thaw; there is no rush to triage your plant friends at this time. Tend to them as we all must tend to ourselves — with a loving, patient eye.
Moving forward, care for your damaged plants may unfold as follows:
Trees & shrubs:
- Expect to see broken limbs, which should be removed. Check for cracked limbs, as well, for removal.
- Evergreens will likely defoliate. They should put out new leaves in the next few months.
- If you are worried you have lost a tree or shrub, make shallow cuts to reveal green under the bark. If there is green living wood, your tree or shrub is alive. If you are not finding green you may need to start removing dead sections. Many shrubs and trees will come back quickly from their established root systems even if they froze to ground level.
- We still could have more freezing weather; do not encourage early growth with fertilization. You can top dress with compost now, and/or provide a balanced, slow-release fertilizer once we are both past our last average frost date (March 1) and see active growth.
Cacti & Succulents:
- Cold damage will be obvious. Remove black, frost-damaged foliage.
- Many species can return from roots, succulents can be especially slow. Give them time. Look for white, firm roots – that is a good sign!
- Cacti and succulents should be kept fairly dry until you see growth, then watered sparingly.
Houseplants & Tropicals
- Remove dead leaves – the smell of dead plant material will only get worse.
- Check root systems. Simply slide your plants out of their pots to look for the presence of firm, normally whiteish roots. Plants with healthy root systems are most likely to have survived.
- Place close together to save space. Keep in a warm room with humid air to support tender unfurling leaves.
- Do not keep soil wet — dormant root systems do not need much water and the name of the game is to avoid damaging root systems.
- Once outside temperatures are reliably warm, move outside to a warm, shady location. Outdoor vacations are often what the doctor ordered for a houseplant that is failing to thrive.
The surreal nature of sudden change, well — turns out that IS the definition of “normal”. Everything shifts: nature, language. Plants know better how to weather this reality — how to hold on, how to release. Both are completely necessary, and both have their season.