Following up on the February freeze damage


I’m sure no one has forgotten the awful week of freezing cold weather that we experienced this past February. I remember being frustrated about answering the questions about “What was going to die in my landscape?” so many times. The truth was I had no idea. 

The fact was, we were going to have to wait for weeks, perhaps a month or more, to find out which plants were going to make it and which wouldn’t. 

Indeed there’s been some surprises, as well as some very expected things. I just knew, absolutely new that palm trees would not make it. Still today, there are some palm trees that I’ve seen around town that still don’t show signs of life. But it was just weeks after that awful wicked winter weather that I saw my first palm tree, just down the road from my house, sprouting back out! 

Many of us were surprised to hear that older azaleas typically didn’t make it while younger azaleas often did. In my own backyard, I lost a large established fig tree. However the newer and younger fig tree is sending up new stems from the base. 

Maybe most surprising of all is that the Chinese tallow tree was considerably knocked back. Now, depending on how you feel about this tree you’ll either rejoice or be very sad. Many land owners, such as ranchers and foresters, are elated that so many Chinese tallow trees may have died. However beekeepers are mourning this season’s loss of a very large source of nectar for our local honey bees. 

I had friends who lost their Rosemary shrubs when I didn’t lose mine. That didn’t make any sense unless we remember the effects of a micro-climate. 

A micro-climate may exist in a landscape due to the northern or southern exposure to the sun. Also, the lower portion of a neighborhood may have been a couple of degrees colder than the homes up on a hill. Orchard growers know all about how cold air settles in a valley and plan which variety they plant in those locations accordingly. 

I’m still waiting on the outcome of my own camellia bush. A camellia to the side of our front yard looks dead, but when you examine it up close, you’ll find hints of new leaves trying to emerge and twigs that are still very much alive. 

We are smart to remind ourselves that there are two ways that we can measure cold weather. One such method is determined by our USDA plant hardiness zone. Every good gardener knows that we are in zone 8b. Zone 8b means that we are expected to have a minimum low of between 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit each winter. 

If you study the USDA cold hardiness map carefully, it is interesting that Angelina County almost directly follows a the outline of the northern limits of zone 8b. Our neighboring counties to the west, north, and east are all in zone 8a which is expected to have a minimum winter temperatures of 10 to 15 degrees F.

But just looking at the absolute minimum cold temperature does not indicate how long of a winter we might have. When choosing peach trees for example, every good peach grower knows that you have to look at the chilling hours . Chilling hours are a measure of the number of hours that we expect to have between 45 degrees and 32 degrees. 

While a peach tree may not care about the absolute minimum temperature that a region receives, it will certainly pay attention to the length of the cold weather before it decides to bloom and begin growing for the next year. 

Looking ahead, I believe that we can still trust the plant hardiness zone map and the wisdom of experienced gardeners in our area with plant selections. I think we should still plant fig trees, camellias, rosemary, and palm trees. But perhaps we should remember that wisdom is gained from the experiences we have. For all of us reading this today, we have the experience of one wicked winter week in February of 2021.