Are My Plants Alive?

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On this pittosporum you can clearly see the new growth and the dead stem that needs to be removed.
On this pittosporum you can clearly see the new growth and the dead stem that needs to be removed.
Contributed Photo

Wilson had an unusually cold winter. The low temperatures caused problems in the landscape including cold damage and death to plants. The plants with the most damage include camellias, gardenias, pittosporums, conifers and palms.

There are many cold damage symptoms that can show up on plants, but brown foliage or dead shoot tips are the most common. While I suggested resisting the urge to go out and prune cold-damaged plants, now that the days are warmer, it is time to decide if the plant survived.   

First check for spring growth. I have seen a lot of new growth on plants like pittosporums, so you will be able to see what tissue is alive and what is dead on plants. Then carefully remove dead and damaged parts of the plant.  

If new growth is not present, then carefully bend a branch near the tip of the plant. If it is flexible, then the stem may be alive. I would wait a bit longer before pruning flexible plants.  

If you bend the stem and it breaks, then that part of the stem is probably dead. Look into the stem; if it is brown, then it is dead. If the stem is alive, you will see green. So, if the stem is dead, get a pair of pruners and start cutting a few inches at a time into the plant. Once you see green or live wood, then prune to that location. If you don’t find live wood, then unfortunately you will need to remove the plant. Plants that I have seen that don’t look like they are recovering include dwarf gardenias and rosemary.   

Young, newly established plants and plants in exposed locations are more likely to suffer cold damage compared to older, established plants and plants in protected locations. Plants that are otherwise under stress or plants growing at the northern end of their range are more susceptible to damage as well.

So, the lesson is while we will continue to grow our Southern plant treasures, Mother Nature isn’t as kind as we would always like her to be. 

Now is a great time to garden so go and get some plants!

For more information on plants and gardening call the trained Extension Master Gardener volunteers at 252-237-0111 or email at wilsonemgv@hotmail.com.

Cyndi Lauderdale is a Wilson County horticulture extension agent.