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Observations on Plant Recovery and What to Do about it

It is hard to know where to begin with all that needs to be done in the gardens.  The results to the brutal weather event of last month in Central Texas has changed many landscapes forever.  But, there are two things we can know for sure, Patience is required and Observation is necessary. We must give nature time to recover and have patience with the process. 

Many plants will not show themselves for months.  It will take many seasons growth to attain the size and presence the plants had in the gardens.  It will take a certain amount of time to even know which direction to proceed: prune/replace or cut back/cut to the ground.  The type of plant, growth habit, the purpose it serves in the landscape, all will come into play with the decisions to be made.

Lets address the perennials first.  Most well established perennials should return from the root system. Those that are from zone 8a or 8b  are the qualifiers. Compost on the roots and good pruning and they will be back when we heat up in April or May with blooms. Many of these are the Texas native perennials.  The Grasses, Salvias,  Spiderworts, Rubeckia and Blue Mist are already on the rebound and some barely show damage. 

Because of our hot summers and recent warm winters, many gardeners have been successful working plants from more tropical areas, like zone 9, 10 and beyond. These plants being Bananas, Bougainvilleas, Palms, Crotons and some Agaves.  Many of these plants did not far well and some may have to be counted out,  It will take months to know for sure if the larger palms will pull through. Best to cut of the dead fronds to avoid fungal problems, if accessible, and compost the root zone.  Sago Palms are a bit easier to tell.  If the trunk remained solid, it should send out new fronds once we heat up. The agaves should have visible damage and be in need of clean up.  A good hand saw will help clean the dead and heavily damaged leaves from the base of the plant.  Removing the rotting leaves off is important as not to allow moisture and rot to remain at the base of the plant.  This same information applies to the Tiger Aloe and Cactus.  Clean away any dead leaves or pads and mushy crowns, depending on the location in the garden, they should return also.  Any planted Bougainvillea or Croton left out or in the landscape during the extreme weather is gone, they are strong zone 9 and beyond plants.   

Woody perennials that have increased in size will take observation to maintain any size about them. Once they begin to show signs of leafing out, it will be obvious which part of the plant made it through unscathed.  More than likely, some pruning and shaping will be required. Locate the new growth and prune to an acceptable shape.  Many woody perennials can take a hard prune to the ground and will regrow in better shape. Lantanas, Flame Acanthus and Salvias all recover well from a hard prune.  Prune, top dress with compost and allow time to recover in size. 

Shrubs will need both time and patience.  Many have blackened leaves or look completely burned.  Many have dropped all of their leaves and are now only branches.  The plants growth habit will determine what is necessary to recover.  The evergreens should drop the blackened leaves and, hopefully, push out new growth, new leaves soon.  A very small amount of tip pruning may be necessary to stimulate the leaf buds.  If branch die back has occurred, try not to remove more than one-third of the shrubs size to avoid further shock.  It is quite possible that some evergreen shrubs may not survive the extreme weather.  Examples are Pittosporum, Thyrallis, Indian Hawthorne and many Viburnums.  Decidious shrubs should have pliable branches and begin leafing out soon.  So, prune off the part not sprouting. If the stem is brittle, mushy or the bark is slipping, be sure and prune below that part and possibly all the way to the crown. An example of these are the shrubs Abelia, Spirea aka Bridals Wreath and Buddleia aka Butterfly Bush.   

Landscape specimens such as living fences and visual barriers may be a little spotty but should recover and fill back in if the plants are well established. Cherry Laurels, Hollies, and So. Wax Myrtles, all may require tip pruning or shaping. Texas Sage should recover and be able to take a hard prune, if well established.  Primrose Jasmine can and will need a hard prune to flourish. That is the benefit of the specimen plant because they are generally larger and more established plants, and, hopefully, chosen well. 

The Vines in the garden were the hardest hit.  Most have browned, and many have died.  The vertically grown vines that are not on a woody stem will need to be cut back to the ground level and allowed to regrow. These are Passion Vine, Flame Vine and those of the annual nature that we cut back anyway.  The more woody vines should have the dead leaves removed, roots composted and allowed time to leaf out.  These are Star Jasmine, Carolina Jessamine, Cross Vine, Honeysuckle and Virginia Creeper.  Hopefully, with time, these vines will maintain some size and releaf.  Only Time and Rain will tell.

Every plant cut back in the garden, for that matter, the entire garden, will benefit from a topdressing of compost now.  A slow feed of the nutrients in compost will bring our gardens back to life without further stressing them.  Compost and Rainfall, of course. 

All the trimmings, leaves and branches from the garden should, ideally, be shredded and put back into the garden as mulch or compost makings.  The garden clean up can and should be completed by using the mulch created to complete the project.  From Soil to Plants, to Soil Again. Once plant growth is strong, fertilize with a well rounded organic fertilizer such a Medina Growin’ Green and mulch well to help the plants full recovery through the Summer and Fall.

Hope you find this information helpful.  Contact Bastrop Botanical Gardens, Deena Spellman and Jeff Long, and let us know if we can be of assistance. It has been a unique winter.  Let’s make it a Glorious Spring.  Great Gardening Everyone! 

Bastrop Botanical Gardens, Deena Spellman

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