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Holly Consults Answers Your Burning Landscape Questions

Article by Holly Consults

Photography by Provided

Originally published in Franklin Lifestyle

What caused so much plant death this winter?
The pre-Christmas sudden drop in temperatures—around 50 degrees over twelve hours or less—combined with the duration of below zero hours created a flash freeze. Put simply, water in plant leaves crystallized, damaging cells and, potentially, woody tissue. It was an unusual weather occurrence, but not unique. 

There may be, probably is, good and bad news in all the brown we see right now. The good news is that some familiar broadleaf evergreens that look dead today may renew after leaf drop. Others may need to be pruned back to live wood, meaning a reduction in height (maybe even to the mulch line) but no long-term harm. The bad news is that we likely do have some plant death out there, perhaps a significant amount.

What should we be doing now to help our gardens recover?
The unsatisfying answer here is to be patient. It’s still winter, of course, and we don’t yet have a good read on what plant recovery or failure will look like. That said, ordinary late winter/early spring tasks like deadheading herbaceous plants should still be on your gardening calendar. If you have essential plants—say for screening—and want to get a quick diagnosis of health, bend a small branch. If it’s pliable, that’s a good sign. From there make a shallow scratch below the bark. If you see green, the wood’s vernal. That’s great, but we won’t have a certain read on vigor until May, maybe later. 

How do we avoid the recurring expenses of plant death?
Of course, extreme weather circumstances are out of our control. What we can do is make smarter choices. Engage with landscape architects or professional horticulturalists for plant selections. Choose native plants. Have a written maintenance calendar and hire qualified gardeners to work in the gardens. We can help with the calendar as well as periodic inspections.

  • Holly Consults was named after the family's beloved and trusted companion, Holly, who passed in 2021

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