Ever since the first of the year we’ve experienced strange weather in eastern North Carolina. A few days have been warm. We’ve even seen temperatures in the 70s, but most of it has been cold. Many folks have experienced frozen water lines. Landscaping has been hit hard too.
We’ve had two significant snowstorms already this year. People from Great Lake or New England areas might not consider these snowstorms major, but here in eastern North Carolina it’s a big deal.
It’s not just the snow. Single digit temperatures have been commonplace since the year began. One night it was around zero. Some people don’t realize it, but having snow on the ground actually might have helped us. The insulation provided by a few inches of snow might have saved a few pipes and plants.
Snow can make some plant problems worse, however. It’s more difficult for animals to find food. Mice, deer and rabbits can eat the bark and buds. That can kill trees and shrubs.
At this point there’s really nothing we can do about our plants but wait until spring. Damage has been done. Problems will only be compounded by dealing with them now. That includes trying to repair trees that have been split carrying the weight of snow and ice.
Many evergreens have a lot of bronze colored leaves. They might come out of it, but I’m skeptical. Osmanthus and Indian hawthorn have been particularly hard hit. Many hollies in the area show signs of winter damage. However, damage will only be exacerbated if we try to treat the shrubbery now.
In spring we can assess them. That means scraping the stems with a knife or fingernail. If the bark is still tight and green that means that portion of the stem is still alive. If the bark slips off easily and is brown then that part of the stem is dead.
Some large shrubs like wax myrtle can show bronzing and have many broken branches from snow load. The good thing here is that they will not only tolerate, they will thrive from severe pruning in spring. Other shrubs will die if pruned severely.
Most conifers won’t tolerate renewal pruning. Leyland cypress, Cryptomeria, arborvitae and all the pines will not grow back when severely pruned. If they have been severely damaged they need to be removed.
Even deciduous plants should not be pruned now, especially spring blooming ones. Trimming them back into shape will only serve to limit their flowering. Let them flower and then shape them. This also is true for fruit trees.
I think most of our winter damaged plants will recover. However, many of us try to stretch the hardiness zone a little and this year we’re likely to get burned. It’s fun to grow plants like Eucalyptus, banana, and some of the palms, but eventually a winter like this one comes along and plants get damaged.
The main thing to remember is that what’s done is done. Now is not the time to try to doctor those plants. Wait until spring when it’s more comfortable. We’re getting close here.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School (firstname.lastname@example.org).