From green to gone — After the hard freeze, don’t cut and run on your garden

Laura Hall
Close up of Rice Paper plant after the freeze.

This is one of the most difficult garden articles I have ever had to compose. 

After deep freeze temperatures were definitely coming our way, I got busy in an effort to save as much in my yard as possible.  Because my citrus ranked high on the save list, I immediately got bags of dirt and piled this topsoil around the trunk to cover the grafting juncture of the citrus with the extra hardy trifoliate orange roots. 

I piled pine straw as high as possible and wrapped the trunk with insulation material. I also bought flexible burlap and wrapped it around the lower branches. I left one fruit on each of my trees to see how well they managed this deep freeze.

My fruit trees seem to have come through with flying colors — well, a lot of brown, wilted leaves on the lemon and the small blood orange on the north side of the house. The grapefruit, kumquats and satsumas seemed to be OK overall. The lemons feel a bit squishy, I’ll try the navel orange next week after a good long thaw. 

I have now pulled the dirt and straw back away from the trunks of all the citrus trees but will not cut back any of the branches. 

Wait, wait. See what Mother Nature shows you in the spring. 

Shelia Dunning, our horticulture agent says, “When you cut a plant you are saying to this plant, grow.  The new tender stems and leaves will be very susceptible to the cold. If you can bear it, put off cutting because our winter is not over.”

Three days after the freeze and a wickedly strong hot toddy, I gather myself together to have a look at the garden. 

I think many of our previous mild winters has lulled me into planting an abundance of tender plants that I have come to love and enjoy.  As I walk through the garden, the dank smell of frozen and destroyed foliage assails my nostrils. 

Oh my, I can hardly look without despair at the beautiful rice paper plants with their gigantic, green umbrella leaves now hanging forlornly black and burned, not a single leaf standing out. Usually in December/January they bloom with glorious top knots of white majestic sprays filling the air like a fireworks explosion. 

I will cut off the burned leaves but leave the woody trunks untouched until early spring in the hopes that I will see new growth coming from the top.

The majestic Giant Elephant Ears are now nothing but a memory as their gigantic leaves lay across the ground in a shriveling heap of wet mucky foliage. I will cut the leaves and stems that are on the ground as they will surely rot and I don’t want that in the garden to introduce unwanted bacteria. 

Damaged crinums, agapanthus and swamp lilies, leave the drooping leaves alone unless they turn to mush and rot; then cut away.  If you have to cut away the leaves, you will have to protect with pine straw, leaves or a blanket if it freezes.

The Boston Fern, which I thought was indestructible, was no match for the cold snap of 2014. Over the years, the fern has covered the trunk of both my palm trees. They began in one palm jumped over to the next closest one and covered both trunks with six feet of vigorous, beautiful, verdant fronds. 

These ferns safely resided here for 14 years and for the first time, are now a dark, damaged, cinnamon brown. 

Strangely enough, I find five to six bright green fronds peeking out as if asking,  “What in heavens name went on for one long and very cold night?” When I can’t bear this ugly sight anymore, I will cut all of the brown fronds out and let them start again. I think enough protected roots remain to sprout bright green again with the warming sun.

As the garden inspection comes to a close, I find the azalea bushes look unharmed, the fatsia looks great, and soon the tight camellia buds will open showing their beautiful blossoms. 

My heart leaves some despair behind as I look into the pine straw at the front of my flower bed and there, pushing up to reach the sun, is the tiny, green promise of the early blooming wild hyacinths. 

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident.  She explores area gardens and other local topics with her cavalier spaniel Annie.  If you would like to show off your garden or be profiled on a future column, contact Laura at