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Delay pruning cold injured plants

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If you can tolerate the plants that now look like an eyesore in the landscape, it’s best to wait until new growth occurs in spring after the danger of another frost or freeze before doing much pruning.

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The end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018 brought some freezing weather to Northwest Florida. As a result, some of our Panhandle plants experienced freeze damage. Now, with days of warmer temperatures, it’s tempting to begin pruning those cold injured landscape plants to remove the dead and injured leaves and branches. But it’s best to delay doing so.

If you can tolerate the plants that now look like an eyesore in the landscape, it’s best to wait until new growth occurs in spring after the danger of another frost or freeze before doing much pruning.

It’s difficult to tell how much damage has been done until plants start new growth in spring. If you prune immediately after a freeze, you may cut away live wood that doesn’t have to be lost. Also, leaves and branches, which have been killed, can help protect the rest of a plant against further cold injury.

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Stem damage on woody shrubs and trees usually is not evident until spring and early summer when some branches die. That will be the time to prune. Cut out dead branches, as you find them, always pruning back to live wood. Don’t’ worry too much about leaf damage on woody shrubs and trees. In most cases, as new leaves come out in spring, the old frost-burned leaves will drop off the plants.

Many times pruning will force a plant to produce new growth. The new growth will be much more susceptible to the next frost or freeze.

Cold weather will come and go throughout our North Florida winters – one week it’s spring-like and the next it’s winter-like. Many of the more cold sensitive ornamentals such as bottlebrush, oleander and tropical hibiscus may look like “dead sticks” following hard freezes. But if possible, resist the urge to prune until after the last killing frost. A killing frost is a frost heavy enough to kill tender vegetation.

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The date that we experience the last killing frost can vary to some extent from year to year but will usually occur around the middle of March. The last killing frost also varies to some degree based on your location within the county. Coastal locations along the Gulf will usually not experience as late a freeze as compared to more northern areas within the county.

Some tender landscape ornamentals may not survive. But don’t give up on them too soon. Allow enough time for them to revive after warm weather returns. If a plant does not recover come spring or if it is weak and not worth keeping, it’s time to replace it

Larry Williams is the Extension horticulture agent with the Okaloosa County Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida. Contact Larry at 689-5850 or email lwilliams@co.okaloosa.fl.us.

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