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March Sadness – Recovering from a Storm for the Ages


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A Pittisporum hedge, probably 20 years old, dying from the winter storm.

March Sadness – Winter storm leaves us reeling into March

We all know the unfortunate effects of the recent, historical winter storm. It was devastating in many ways. Homes were flooded. Electricity was lost for days. We’ve heard about most of this unfortunate news for the past week.

But there was another crisis happening at the same time and we’re not hearing much about it yet – but we will. That’s the devastation left behind in our landscapes.

Why was this winter event so destructive to our landscapes? We’ve had winter storms before and made it through just fine.

This storm was historical. It carried with it record low temperatures that frankly, have never happened in my life time here in North Texas. It brought the most unusual “powder snow” and there was no ice at all. All of this was foreign to most of Texas, and the plants that call this state home.

The low temperatures were one thing. We dipped down to –2 where I live. But the killing blow was the length of time we spent at those incredibly low temperatures. We went three days in the teens, single digits. Wind chills were well below zero.

Some of our landscape plants simply can’t survive that kind of weather.

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Another casualty.

 

Our native Live Oaks, for example, are a story yet to unfold yet here in North Texas. North of DFW is the northern boundary for Live Oaks. And right now, they are in a sad state.

Normally, this is the time when the famous “Live Oak Molt” begins. This is when tree begins browning and shedding its leaves while growing new ones at the same time. The tree is never really without leaves. The leaf dump takes about three weeks to complete.

This season will be much different. The existing leaves on the Live Oaks have been damaged by the winter weather. They will drop due to damage, not due to the molt. So we may Live Oaks without leaves, perhaps for a few weeks, which is a site we almost never see in our lifetimes.

The sad news is, not all of the Live Oaks will survive. There will be fatalities. So sad to see this happen. But we likely won’t know until mid-to-late March whether any given tree is a survivor or not. So please don’t remove your Live Oaks until you’re sure they aren’t coming back. You should at least see buds appearing in the next few weeks.

All we can do is wait and see.

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A Lorapetalum, dead after the devastating cold.

Other plants hard hit

Another landscape plant that was hard hit was the Lorapetalum (aka Chinese Fringe plant) shrub. In one week of damage assessments in North Texas, I can say I have seen only a handful of Lorapetalums that have survived. The rest were dead.

Pittisporum shrubs and Variegated Pittisporums were also hard hit. I’d say around 85% of the ones I examined this week were dead. The problem with the others is that they were damaged and have lots of brown leaves (freeze burn) on them. These leaves will drop and the plant may look awkward for some time going forward.

Indian Hawthorns, Sunshine Ligustrum, even Japanese Yews all suffered some damage but in most cases will survive.

With Palms, it will be a wait and see thing. But for now, I advise you to remove every leaf/limb that is brown. Even if that is every one of them. With Sago Palms, remove the brown fronds. Cut a half inch from the coconut center. Keep an eye on the top of that center because that is where new growth will begin. If that dries hard or becomes mush, it’s dead. But that won’t be known until weeks from now.

On the other hand, plants that have sailed right through this include most all species of Hollies, Pines, Junipers, Boxwoods and most all deciduous shrubs and trees.

With perennials, we likely won’t know the extent of that damage until late March. They are in dormancy and more or less look dead anyway this time of year. So for now, I would cut them back and hope for the best.

So we’ll be faced with some choices in the next month. Are we willing to nurse something back to health when it may never look like it’s supposed to? Or do we replace it? These decisions will not be easy.

This weather was so extreme that none of the recommendations I make for preparing your landscape would make a difference. Covering shrubs and whatnot can’t stop damage from zero or near-zero temperatures that linger for 2-3 days. So this was a pretty helpless feeling throughout this storm.

I’ve been asked to put a dollar amount on the damage inflicted on landscapes in DFW and that would be a hard call. I’d say easily into the millions. Landscape-wise, this was a tragic event.

 

An Old Texas Wives’ Tale . . .

According to a popular Old Texas Wives’ Tale, when it snows and stays on the ground for three days, it will snow again before the season is over.

The snow from the recent storms certainly stayed on the ground for three days. And throughout my life, I have found this saying to ring true for the most part. I have no idea if there’s something to it or just coincidence.

However, this time, the rule has to apply to most of Texas, which received snow and saw it stay three days. So it would be hard to imagine another widespread event like that repeating itself, even without the harsh temperatures.

And this leads me to our next subject . . . .

 

Don’t Be Too Early . . .

Every March, I see folks buying up fertilizer, weed & feeds, spring flowers, etc. And in doing this, they are making a big mistake.

For both applying fertilizer/weed & feeds or planting flowers, wait until April 1 or after to do so. Historically, April 1 is when we see our last freeze or winter weather. We have seen snow here on April 1.

Applying fertilizer during cold weather when your turf hasn’t fully emerged from dormancy is a big waste of time and product. Turf that isn’t actively growing (but is still green), is not intaking much in the way of nutrients. To get maximum effect from your fertilizer, wait until April 1 or after to put it down. We’ll see some sunny, warm days in March so don’t let yourself be tempted!

Spring flowers represent an investment for us. Lets face it, they aren’t cheap. So it would be highly discouraging to spend that money only to see them lost in a late season freeze. It’s best to be patient and wait until it’s safe, in April.

 

One last item . . .

It would be very wise to have your sprinkler system checked for breaks, leaks, issues that could have been caused by the recent storm, before we head into the growing season.

 

 

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A Pittisporum hedge, probably 20 years old, dying from the winter storm. March Sadness – Winter storm leaves us reeling into March We all know the unfortunate effects of the recent, historic

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1 hour ago, Bear19 said:

SHA

What are the chances of a philodendron coming back?

Here in Huntsville we got down to single digits and were not above freezing for at least 72 hours. It has frozen before but always come back in the spring.

I would wait until second week of March, then cut it back and just hope for the best.

 

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yep, I lost a lot of potted plants. I'n in between places and couldnt get them inside.  That's the way it goes but I'm not so much concerned about potted plants as I am about potted trees because of the time involved growing them to a decent size to put in the ground.  I'll wait and see which ones bud and which ones dont.  

Interestingly, my potted rosemary is very green with about 1/3 freezer burn...but it'll be ok.  some chives and thyme survived in pots but the mint plants look dead.  oh well, easily replaceable.   

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7 minutes ago, Soldierhorn said:

yep, I lost a lot of potted plants. I'n in between places and couldnt get them inside.  That's the way it goes but I'm not so much concerned about potted plants as I am about potted trees because of the time involved growing them to a decent size to put in the ground.  I'll wait and see which ones bud and which ones dont.  

Interestingly, my potted rosemary is very green with about 1/3 freezer burn...but it'll be ok.  some chives and thyme survived in pots but the mint plants look dead.  oh well, easily replaceable.   

Got my onions planted on Jan. 15.

I lost 2/3s of them. The others will likely be stunted. Have to start all over.

We had snow on the ground on Valentines Day, so I didn't get my potatoes in on schedule. I'll be doing that tomorrow.

 

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2 hours ago, MBHORNSFAN said:

My yard and beds looks like one big brown shit bag. Oh well I am not much of a yard guy anyways. 

The storm sent everything back into dormancy, that goes dormant. I still had Daylilies full grown until this storm hit.

Give it a few weeks and see what tries to come back.

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On 3/1/2021 at 12:36 AM, Sirhornsalot said:

Got my onions planted on Jan. 15.

I lost 2/3s of them. The others will likely be stunted. Have to start all over.

We had snow on the ground on Valentines Day, so I didn't get my potatoes in on schedule. I'll be doing that tomorrow.

 

My onions Jan. 16 second planting to fill outroe Jan 20 All seemto bedoing ok.

 Potatos Feb. 4 not up thank goodness snow did not seem to hurt any thing we had up and growing Bok Bhoy and Snow Peas.

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On 3/1/2021 at 12:36 AM, Sirhornsalot said:

Got my onions planted on Jan. 15.

I lost 2/3s of them. The others will likely be stunted. Have to start all over.

We had snow on the ground on Valentines Day, so I didn't get my potatoes in on schedule. I'll be doing that tomorrow.

 

I have a lot of big red onions and sage in a raised bed and it looks like they survived.  

the red onions are ones that I bought at HEB and used them for cooking.  I then put the root end in a water container and put them out in the garden when the stems get up to 6-8". A fun thing I like to do is see what I can buy at HEB, root them and plant them and see what happens. I have a lemon tree through that process.  It will be a couple of years for it to fruit, if it ever does.  if it doesnt fruit, then I'll graf in limbs from a tree I got at a nursery.  But, apples, plums, pecans or whatever seem to work.  I doubt i can get an almond tree to survive but it dosent hurt to try

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9 hours ago, Aaron Carrara said:

Mark, to confirm regarding grass.....  Waiting until April 1 to fertilize is ok?  Don't want to miss a window.  April isn't too late to do that?

As always, thanks for the great info.

You're in Austin so you could get away with putting it down the last week of March. Gets warmer there sooner than up here in the Metroplex.

April 1, June 15, and Aug. 30 are good dates for applying fertilizer or weed/feeds. You and other Austin/San Antonio peeps can be a week or two early in each case.

 

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1 hour ago, Baron said:

My wife is telling me that the live oaks look like bombs went off through the entire pasture. They are also still without power.

The Live Oaks are some unhappy and confused trees right now. lol

Give it time. They'll be late, I'm sure. But there will be some that don't make it.

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While I was exiled in Albuquerque, I found something called Walls of Water. I would start tomato plants inside those, small ones, in late February. 
 

They acted as mini greenhouses, and those tomatoes got off to a great start.  When it was warm enough, just take the Walls down. They produced and produced - by June.  We had tomatoes for months.

 

 

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15 minutes ago, java said:

While I was exiled in Albuquerque, I found something called Walls of Water. I would start tomato plants inside those, small ones, in late February. 
 

They acted as mini greenhouses, and those tomatoes got off to a great start.  When it was warm enough, just take the Walls down. They produced and produced - by June.  We had tomatoes for months.

 

 

would you post a pic?  I'd like to see it

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10 minutes ago, HornSports Staff said:

Mark,

Will Sago Palms bounce back from the winter storm?

Some will, some won't. 

Trim off the brown fronds, close to the pineapple center, even if this means trimming every one of them off.

This will encourage a living specimen to grow new fronds.

Keep an eye on the top center of the pineapple. That is where the new fronds will come from. Careful if you touch as there will be sharp points there. But this top should be soft to the touch (except the point, of course). If that goes brown and hard, then its a dead Sago.

Its worth waiting a few weeks to find out.

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