Warming up to winter yard care
Jan. 31, 2018 at midnight
In south Texas, our yards are not accustomed to this cold! We’ve experienced too many nights where the mercury has dipped below freezing and even multiple days where we never emerged from the deep freeze. Couple those chilly temperatures with winter precipitation and you have a recipe for winter damaged yards.
If you’ve ventured outside and seen sad-looking dead grass, shrubs that don’t look normal, and even dropping trees, you’re not alone. Here’s a helpful guide to some of the damage you might encounter and some tips to bring your yard back into shape for spring.
One of the most common issues for lawns is crown hydration. This occurs when a sudden freeze follows warm weather. When this happens, grass that has absorbed a lot of liquid may freeze, literally killing the crown. At the opposite extreme but often having the same result is winter desiccation. This occurs when the ground is frozen and thus prevents grass roots from absorbing the water they need to thrive. That makes your grass dry out. When the problem is mild, you may see brown or tan leaves; when it’s severe, it will kill the crown.
You can repair a damaged lawn once the weather gets warmer by dethatching and aerating the area in question and then reseeding to replace the damaged grass. In severe cases or when you want to see faster results, you can resod. Simply dig out the damaged grass and replace it with fresh sod.
It’s common to see brown and droopy foliage on shrubs that have been damaged by frost – even if you took precautions and tried to cover them up. The good news is that if a plant has a woody stem, it can often be saved - if you are patient.
The key is not to prune back the damaged leaves until warmer temperatures arrive. The reason is that pruning encourages growth. So if you cut back damaged areas while there is still a danger of frost, you are leaving that delicate new growth open to further damage. Plus, your plant will be expending energy to produce new growth when it should be working to heal itself.
So what should you do? Baby your plants – after all, they are sick. Cover them with a woven fabric when there is a danger of frost and keep them watered. Once all danger of frost is past, you can prune conservatively. Ideally, you’ll want to wait until the plant starts pushing out new growth. That allows you to see which parts of the plant are dead and means that the plant is strong enough to handle pruning. Above all, go slow. Don’t remove all the damaged branches at once or the trauma may push the plant past recovery.
Fruit trees and palm trees are the most sensitive to cold temperatures. As with your shrubs, limp and drooping branches are signs of frost damage. Just like your shrubs, patience is the key to saving trees.
For the best results with fruit trees, monitor them for at least two months before attempting to prune. While trees should be kept hydrated, be careful not to overwater if the tree has dropped a substantial amount of leaves. When it is time to prune, remove obviously damaged branches at the juncture where the branch meets the tree.
Palm trees, on the other hand, have completely different issues. The bud, where new leaves emerge is its most vulnerable part. If the bud is still green, you can usually save the tree. While you’ll want to remove completely dead branches, don’t cut away leaves that are alive but have brown tips. They are still producing nutrients the palm tree needs to survive. Palm trees are much more vulnerable to bacterial and fungal infections after a freeze, so make sure that you treat them with the proper chemicals – following all directions to be certain you’ re not over-spraying.
With a little patience and some care, your once-lush yard will be back to back to its former glory by spring.