Gardening: A strange year generates unusual questions

Many nurseries still have a good supply of landscaping plants.

Many nurseries still have a good supply of landscaping plants.

Special on the Star Telegram

As a gardener, I’ve never seen a more strange year.

The winter of 1983/84 was strange, but this one turned out to be worse. The questions keep pouring in. I’ve crammed them together and will do this again when the year comes to an end. Here are the people who still ask and how I answer them.

“Why are there vertical cracks in the bark of my tree and will it survive? Is there anything I should do to help him? “

Just to give it priority question status, it popped up in mid-March and became more common as the months went on.

This is a phenomenon known as “radial shaking”. The cortex and trunk tissues exposed to extremely low temperatures for many consecutive hours developed vertical stress fractures. They were first recognizable in the bark.

As it began to peel away from the logs, the inner timbers of the logs remained exposed and prone to the drying conditions. It was going downhill and the treetops were starting to lose leaves. Some trees have been completely bare since midsummer. Others have sent sprouts from their roots. Many others are trying to heal.

Species affected included ash (the havoc has increased – many trees have been completely lost) and, to a lesser extent, Shumard red oak, live oak, Chinese pistachio, lacebark elm, and too many others to name individually.

Now, 10 months after all of this, our greater concern comes back to the remaining strength of the surviving trees. Can those who have been granted strikes survive and recover? Could they stop if strong ice or a storm penetrated against them? If one of the weakened trees fell, would it injure anyone or damage other plants or property? You may want to hire a certified arborist to help you assess the risks. It may be time to cut the tree down.

“Is it safe to plant new shrubs at this point? I found it in my favorite nursery. “

Absolutely yes! Of course, you’ll want to avoid species that are only slightly hardy where you live, but everyone else should be fine. When people rush their spring landscaping in March and April, we’ll likely see another round of plant shortages.

There seems to be ample supply of larger plants, and that is a good thing. These larger plants will give you several years head start and you will have a higher chance of watering errors. Remember that new plants in your landscape should be hand watered for the first few years. Sprinkler and drip irrigation alone is not enough.

“What can I do to avoid similar cold damage to my new plants this winter?”

First things first, remember that what we saw last February was probably a single cold spell in 100 years in terms of the low temperatures reached and the duration of the cold. Add the fact that it happened so late in winter (just before things started budding and blooming or growing) and you can see why it happened so infrequently.

That said, don’t get overly obsessed with the possibility that it could happen again. Get enough frost cloth to cover plants that could be damaged (i.e., those that are hardy to zone 8 or 9) and keep everything well watered through the winter. The soil doesn’t have to be wet, but you just don’t want plants to get into freezing weather with a lack of water.

“When can I prune my plants given the damage caused by the cold? I don’t want to make things worse. “

Usually these dates are given with the specified plant and that will determine the correct answer. In general, however, shade trees are pruned from now until late winter – sooner rather than later if it was a death from cold damage.

Evergreen shrubs are pruned in late December or January while they are dormant. Spring-flowering shrubs and vines are pruned immediately after flowering in spring. Shrubs and vines that bloom in summer are pruned in winter, but crepe myrtles are never “topped”.

Grapes and fruit trees, especially peaches, plums and apples, are pruned in late December and January. Read how everyone should be circumcised in order for you to get it right. Don’t prune pears, figs, or pomegranates much other than to remove damaged branches. Blackberries are only pruned after production has ended, after which all sticks that have just borne fruit are cut down to the ground.

“Should I leave the fallen leaves on my lawn or should I remove them? Can I run them through a mulching mower? Will they help protect my lawn grass from the winter cold? “

Bermuda and Zoysia grasses are quite hardy here in North Texas. You shouldn’t have any trouble surviving our cold, even if it’s as extreme as it was February 2021. St. Augustine is less durable, but for whatever reason, it wasn’t as badly injured as many of us feared. No doubt the blanket of snow that covered him also protected him.

In response to your answer, leaving fallen tree leaves on the ground is not a good plan. They store and trap heat and moisture. This combination leads to disease and also increases the likelihood that winter will die if the leaves blow away in a severe winter storm.

Use your mulching mower to bring them back to the lawn surface 49 or 50 weeks a year. Mulching under bushes or around perennials. They are worth gold.

You can hear Neil Sperry on KLIF 570AM until 1:00 p.m. on Saturday afternoons and on WBAP 820AM on Sunday mornings 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Join him at and follow him on Facebook.

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