After winter storms and cold spells strike, we head out to look at the garden, wondering what has survived and how to go about recovering from potential damage.

So far, a message from a customer named Janet put it best when she asked if she should “lop, prop, or chop” her storm-damaged plants. The recent spring snowstorm was another “unprecedented” weather event for the record books, leaving area gardeners shaking our heads in dismay as cold temperatures jeopardized tender new plantings and delicate blossoms. We must wait and observe exactly what effects this storm will have on our plants and this season’s harvest of fruits and berries. For now, there are a few things that can be done as the snow melts and we return to normal spring temperatures.

Plants in Containers

If you moved potted plants indoors or to protected areas before the storm, they can be moved back to their normal locations as temperatures warm up to normal ranges. If they have been indoors for more than a week, they may be thirsty—be sure to water them.

If you didn’t protect your containers from freezing, you may find damaged plants or even a cracked pot. If this is the case, protect what remains by repotting plants in a temporary container, or stop into our garden centers for a new pot—you may even find a replacement plant or two! If your containers are intact, make sure they are still able to drain after all of the rain, snow, and ice. Pot feet or risers that keep the drain hole off the ground can help with drainage and may also prevent a container from cracking during extreme cold temperatures. In addition, containers with extra thick walls are the most frost-resistant… we’re onto you, Winter!

Covered Plants

As the snow and/or ice melts, remove protective sheets and blankets so plants are exposed to sunlight. Look for any damaged or broken branches that need pruning and give them a clean cut.

Landscape Trees & Shrubs

As you begin your garden cleanup, keep an eye out for early spring bird nests and pollinator habitats. Avoid disturbing these areas when found.

With the combined weight of snow and ice, plus pressure from the wind, trees sustain the most winter damage. Do not try to repair all of the damage yourself—if it requires a chainsaw and a ladder, it’s probably best left to the professionals. If you find the need for an arborist, we recommend Collier Arbor Care, Halstead’s Arboriculture, or ArborPro Tree Experts.

If a limb or branch is broken or damaged and easy for you to handle, it should be pruned to a lateral branch or back to a healthy bud—use a folding saw or loppers if the branch diameter is larger than one inch. Wound dressings and tree sealants are not recommended as they may interfere with the natural healing process.

In addition to tree damage, you may find broken branches on ornamental shrubs, especially evergreen ones. Prune below the damaged branch with a clean cut, and cut the stem back to just above a healthy bud. Resist the urge to prune more than what is obviously damaged now—when growth begins in spring, it will help you determine how far back to prune as healthy buds grow.

Bent over shrubbery is best left alone if not broken—light pruning can be done later on to correct shape. If it is columnar like a sky pencil and the branches have all fallen away, they can be staked and gathered once it warms up. If it is an arborvitae and bent totally in half, it is probably a goner, but it’s still good to wait and see what recovery looks like.

If trees and shrubs have tipped over or fallen down without breaking, they can be replanted, but this should be done within about three days of the original damage. The plant should be staked for temporary support and treated as a new planting.

When to Consider the Plant “Dead”

If you think a tree or part of a tree might be dead, scratch off a thin strip of bark with your fingernail. If it is light tan or green under the bark layer, it is still alive, but if it is dark brown or gray, that branch is most likely dead.

It is wise to wait until after our last average frost date (April 15th) to determine if a plant is likely to recover from a harsh winter. Some plants are still dormant and look pretty lifeless already, so waiting to see if they begin growing in spring is the easiest way to tell if they are still alive. One thing is certain—after such a roller-coaster of a winter, most of our plants will be extra hungry when they wake this spring, so remember to fertilize as part of the recovery plan. All-purpose, organic fertilizers with beneficial microorganisms help energize plants with nutrients to sustain vigorous, new spring growth!

One of my favorite garden plants, the Hardy Fuchsia, is notoriously late to emerge in the spring and often sustains some winter damage, but always grows new sprouts from its roots, recovering by mid-May. It is best to wait until the fuchsia shows signs of growth to tell how far to cut it back each spring. Another “late sleeper” each spring is the Crepe Myrtle, often not leafing out until May. As more of us fall in love with this late-season tree/shrub, it is crucial that we understand how it grows… be sure to give it time this year, they are quite cold hardy!

The fate of most tender perennials (those hardy to Zones 8 and above)… well, let’s call those new vacancies in your garden “opportunities”. Perhaps you’ve had your eye on something that you wanted to try, but didn’t have room for, such as a winter-blooming Camellia, a Black Lace Elderberry, or a sunny bed of Dahlias for summer bouquets.

We Can Help

As you are doing storm recovery, remember that we are here to answer questions. We will try our best to help you solve any problems and would love to make recommendations for replacements. Winter is still upon us, but we can all help each other weather the storms!

If your garden/landscape is feeling like an overwhelming mess from the recent snow storm and winter weather, get some expert advice and guidance with an all-inclusive, on-site garden coaching experience! Or contact our Landscape Maintenance team if you need assistance with debris removal and storm cleanup.

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