Yard & Garden CPR
● By Robert Frey
Clean, Pray, ReplaceBy Patrice Doucet
With a record winter officially finished, consumers began invading nurseries and garden shops the first week of March, itching to plants flowers, vegetables and shrubs - in many cases replacing what was lost in sub-freezing temperatures. Nurseries have been laboring behind the scenes to get inventory, while landscapers have been assessing free-damaged plants and giving their forecasts.
Richard Hebert, owner of Hebert’s Nursery in New Iberia, gives his overview of what we can expect in the survival of some of the more common landscaping plants: “Pansies and snap dragons made it, for the most part. Perennials like lantanas, heather, verbenas are a ‘wait and see.’ Bottle brush took a hit - many have died. Lily of the Nile and ginger plants should be fine; be sure to cut them back if you haven’t already. In fact, once you see a plant start sprouting from the base, trim back the dead part to the sprouts. Hibiscus and bougainvillea exposed to freezing temperatures for extended periods may be lost and some citrus trees may have died. In the case of citrus trees, the age of the tree is critical - the older the better chance of survival in extended freezing weather.” Hebert advises customers with citrus trees still looking “iffy” to watch for any new sprouts at or near the baseline of the tree, break those off immediately, and fertilize with a special formula for fruit, citrus and pecan trees.
If you do need to replant shrubs or small trees, Hebert says late fall and winter are preferable, especially if you’re cutting roots to transplant. Planting in the spring is acceptable and maybe better from the standpoint of getting a better selection.
“There’s a high demand right now,” says Hebert “but we pull plants from several nurseries, and from out of state. Some growers might run short.”
Many residents in areas flooded in August 2016 and then again last year worry that the soil may still be affected from debris brought into yards where water was standing for days. Hebert says that might be the case only along the coast where salt water intruded.
Tropicals are common among landscapes around homes and businesses in South Louisiana because of their ability to thrive during the intense heat and humidity of summer. Glenn Stokes, owner of Stokes Tropicals in New Iberia, says don’t be too quick to dig up tropical plants that are seemingly severely damaged. They may eventually re-sprout from the base of the plant or the roots in April or May.
Tropicals most affected by the freezes this past winter include hibiscus, bougainvillea and certain banana trees and palms.
“Ordinary banana trees, called Orinico, were frozen down but will return,” says Stokes, “because they are protected underground. Cut off the tops and they will re-sprout a foot each month. The Ensete banana might be ruined.”
Surprisingly, there are eight to nine varieties of palms that are very cold hardy in this area designated Zone 9, including the Mediterranean fan palms, the Sabal, the Chinese fan, Sago and Canary Island day palms. “The fronds of these varieties might be brown still, but they are not dead,” says Stokes. “All you do is cut the fronds off at the base to the trunk.”
The most cold-sensitive palm in this area, according to Stokes, is the Queen Palm. “The ones that I’ve seen are dead,” he says. He explains the way to test if a palm is lost is to observe if it begins producing a new spear at the top. (The new shoots come from the top; that’s where they need to be protected in the winter.) If you can pull that spear out from the top easily, Stokes says the tree is dead.
If your palm is dead, it is best to hire a professional tree surgeon or someone good with a chain saw, as the trunks are very heavy.
As for when to plant tropicals in this area, they can be treated as annuals and put in the ground after the last freeze date of the winter, which is usually the second week of March, through October, before the first freeze of the fall.
Stokes, who provides landscaping throughout the state, says he is bringing in plants from Florida, Texas, Alabama and Forest Hill in Louisiana to meet the demand. “Plants that have never died before, died this winter; Forest Hill nurseries lost plants in the fields that they never lose. Demand is tremendous. People are coming in begging for color in plants like hibiscus, passion flowers and coral bells.”
As for lawns, the damage was not hard hit. Eric Landry, co-owner of landscape and lawncare company Landscape Ranch, says he sees no lawn damage - other than residual damage caused by fungus or from sod webworms last fall.
With the unseasonably warm weather in the weeks leading up to spring, Landry started mowing lawns at the end of February and noticed the appearance of “brown patch.” For this fungal disease, he suggests using a residential granule fungicide called F-Stop.
For killing those springtime weeds in the lawn, Landry recommends a high-yield product like Trimec. For more stubborn weeds, like the Virginia button weed, he suggests using a weed-and-feed first and then a week later applying a spray called Weed Free Zone.
For all of those thinking that this cold winter means there will be fewer mosquitos, no such luck. Stokes, who is also a medical entomologist, says. “the freeze didn’t do a thing to kill mosquito larvae, which have been around for over 170 million years. Mosquitos only live 30 days and, in the meantime, they find places where they won’t freeze- like culverts.” In fact, unusually warm spring weather brought an influx of crane flies (what many of us refer to as “Daddy Long Legs” or “Mosquito Hawks) and will encourage an earlier termite season.
This past winter will definitely be one for the record books in terms of temperatures, damage to plants – and a boost to the local economy. Stokes recalls, “The last time it was this cold was 1989, where we had 9 to 10 hours of subfreezing temperatures. This year, we experienced more than 30 hours of below freezing weather- one of the coldest winters recorded. It’s going to be the busiest year in the last 30 years or more for the nursery business; we’ll see record sales.”