Everyone has dead and damaged plants in their yards from the freezing temperatures we have experienced so far this winter. We are currently seeing some of those most affected plants putting out new greenery. Along with that comes the question of “what do I do?” Currently, the answer is: nothing. Leave the dead leaves and other plant material for now.

Our UGA Horticulture Specialists and landscape professionals alike are in agreement that leaving the plants as they are right now is the best case scenario. The main reason for this is that we still have a lot of winter to get through before we have consistent warm, Spring days.

Pruning now will leave whatever green material you do have exposed to the elements when we get colder weather again. The dead foliage is actually helping to insulate any living material and is beneficial to your plants’ survival.

When it does start to look like the weather will be warm for good, then we can look to pruning and fertilizing to help get the plants back up to good health. Until then, take advantage of your Ag agent telling you NOT to do something in the yard and enjoy the pass to be a little lazy for now!

Response for Citrus:

How can I protect my trees for the rest of the winter?

The best option is a heat lamp under a blanket or frost cloth that completely covers the tree to the ground

What do I do now to my damaged trees?

Do not prune citrus trees now.  We do not yet know the extent of damage to limbs, branches, and the trunks of trees.  By May or June limb damage will be obvious.  Wait until then to prune these dead limbs by pruning into the green wood below the dead wood.  Any fruit left on trees was frozen and is no longer good.  In general frozen fruit is only good to use as juice but fruit should be juiced within a couple of days after freezing. 

Jake Price, Citrus Agent

Response for Woody Ornamentals

The hard freeze likely affected plants, especially ones in exposed locations and those with marginal cold hardiness. For the woody plants, much of the year-old twigs on the canopy periphery have been affected. In the north, they call this “frost pruning”. You can assess the damage (that is, how far down the stem the dead cells extend) later when the tissue dries out. These affected portions can be pruned off in the spring but if left, the plant will outgrow them – in a way “shed” them, as the buds break and new twigs start growing. Pruning now is not recommended, because that damaged tissue can serve as protection in case we get more hard frosts later

Bodie Pennisi, Horticulture Specialist

Response for Turfgrass

We will not truly know until spring green-up but grasses that were fully dormant likely will not have any long-term effects. Microclimates (e.g. shade) may be exceptions. In general, our turfgrasses are resilient plants and will likely be fine. Exceptions may include the stoloniferous species(i.e. centipedegrass and St. Augustinegrass) being grown beyond their ideal zone of adaptation (e.g. Macon). From a turfgrass perspective, it was better for this freeze to occur in December than in March.

Clint Waltz, Turf Specialist

For more information, check out our publication Effects of Low Temperature on Plants