How to recover from a hard freeze

Jan. 4—ALBANY — Well, now that 2022 is in the books, we can focus on the year ahead. However, December 2022 certainly was filled with some highs and lows. It was great celebrating my birthday and the Christmas season with various parties, but I can't forget about the first anniversary of my mother's death the day after Christmas, and the hard freeze we endured.

My family and network of friends helped me through the anniversary but as for my plants and shrubs, the outcome was slightly different. So now, how will our plants recover from multiple days of hard freezing temperatures, or can they? That is the question that many are asking, including myself.

Like many people, I started to assess the damages throughout the yard. Some of it was immediately visible, like burnt-looking ferns and azaleas, mushy looking agapanthuses, collapsed impatiens and broccoli plants, and curling leaves on my improved Meyer lemon tree. However, it wasn't until about a week later that I started to notice that the leaves of the lemon tree, mushy agapanthus and the asparagus fern had a wheat straw-like color to them, as did the tops of my neighbor's boxwoods. I may not know the full extent of the damage for another few months.

So, what do we do now? That is the question at the moment. The immediate answer is do nothing at the moment, in most instances. Resist the urge to go out and start pruning.

It is best to wait until the spring. When the new growth sprouts, you will know how far to prune back on each branch. You can also lightly scrape the bark of the stem of your plants to see if that cambium layer is still green. If so, just smile, put way the pruning shears and know that your plant is still alive. Plants like impatiens and begonias can be pulled to reduce fungal and bacterial problems.

Because banana trees usually send up new pups from the root system, it is OK to prune them down to the ground or wait until spring.

So, for now, strip the dead leaves from the plants, pull up any dead herbaceous plants (not woody ornamentals or trees), and try to protect surviving plants from future freezes. This can be done by watering in-ground plants the night before a freeze. The water will help keep the soil warm. Also place sheets and towels over plants or large containers that can't be moved. Make sure that the covering reaches the ground. This helps to trap the heat.

If you can, place smaller containers inside a storage room or a place where there is a source of heat. It they must be left outside, place them close together and mulch if possible. Most of the time, I place medium-sized containers together along the back wall of the carport.

Luckily for us, we do not experience several days of hard freezing weather at one time that often. In the event the temperature does drop below 32 degrees, you will be ready to protect the plants in your landscape and formulate a plan for the spring.

For more information on winter plant protection or what to do after a freeze, reach out to your local extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1, or you can call me at (229) 343-5097, or email me at

James Morgan is the Dougherty County Extension Coordinator/Agriculture & Natural Resources agent for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.