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How To Tell If Your Plants Survived The Texas Winter Storm

How To Tell If Your Plants Survived The Texas Winter Storm

Mar 23rd 2021

The Texas winter freeze that was unofficially named Winter Storm Uri caused a lot of damage to places that aren't meant or built for the cold weather. Unfortunately, that includes a lot of the plants that grow in the region. Ice, snow and freezing temperatures caused many plants to die. This impacted live oak trees, palm trees, Indian hawthorn, abelias, loropetalums, Asian jasmine, purple wintercreeper, plus many succulents and herbs.

The hard part is, how to tell if those plants survived or not? The last typical frost date for the area is around the middle of March, so it can be hard to know if a plant is still dormant or dead. Here are a few ways to tell, and some advice going forward. 

1. Give the plants some time - some plants may take a couple of months to show any signs of growth. Those plants may come back from the ground, or their branches may start producing new growth, depending on the plant and the winter damage to it. If you still don't see any growth by late May, it is more than likely dead.

2. If you do not want to wait and see, you can obviously remove the plants and replace them at any time.

3. Assess the damage:
Twigs - these should still be flexible and springy. 

Leaves - dead leaves should shed naturally and easily. If a twig has leaves on it, and the leaves don't fall off easily, that is a bad sign.

Scratch test - a simple scratch test on one of the lower branches can reveal the damage. Simply make a scratch or small cut on a lower part of the plant. If you see green, that's a good sign. If you see nothing but brown, that isn't good.

Firmness - many succulents and cacti will still be alive, depending on the variety. An easy way to tell is by feeling how firm the center of collapsed leaves or center of the plant. You can also feel the trunk on palm trees. If its still firm, then the plant should be OK. If its mushy, that means its probably dead.

Palm Trees and Live Oak Trees - these will most likely be dead. But it's smart to wait and see if new growth emerges in April.

Succulents and cacti - it will depend on the variety if it can withstand the freeze or not. The firmness test is the best way to tell if they survived.

Herbs - most herbs will probably be dead. Especially ones growing in containers. You will more than likely need to replace those.

Shrubs - a lot of evergreen shrubs will turn brown. Many evergreens will die back to the ground and start new growth from the ground up, rather than on the existing wood. That doesn't always mean the shrubs are dead, but it will take a long time to recover and look nice again unfortunately. If the evergreen loses it's leaves, that isn't necessarily a bad sign. It would be worse if the leaves turn brown, but don't easily fall off of the branches.

Other Things to Consider

1. There is nothing you an do to help the plants recover faster. Adding extra water, fertilizer or pruning will not help speed up the process and may do more harm than good.

2. If you prune right now, it will encourage new growth of the plant. That might be a bad thing if another freeze hits the area. It's best to wait until the first week of April to prune or trim off any dead growth.

3. Plants may come back from the ground up. Which means the old growth is all dead, but not the plants roots. It may take a while for the plant to come back to previous form, but it should eventually. You will have to decide if you are OK with waiting for that to happen.

4. It is safe to plant in most of Texas right now. So if you don't want to take the wait and see approach, feel free to start replacing right away!