The weather and your plants

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Warmer temperatures this winter has led to trees and flowers blooming early. A sudden brief late freeze is not likely to kill or cause long-term damage to your shrubs and trees, though the early leaves and blossoms may suffer some damage. Most trees and shrubs will recover from this type of damage.  The main deciding factor in how much damage your flowering tree or shrub sustains  will be how far along they were in the process of breaking dormancy. If the leaf buds were still quite small, and had just begun to unfurl, you should still be in good shape.  Even if actual leaves had begun to sprout, they are just the initial budding. Once the weather warms again, your tree or shrub will put out another flush of leaves. Foliar buds are more resistant to cold damage than flowering buds, but may still experience some browning or misshapen leaves.  Once the plant has fully leafed out, the freeze damage may not even be visible.


If a hard frost is in the forecast, covering your plants may be beneficial. Covering with sheets or ground covers will not protect from freezing temperatures, but it will shield tender buds from the damage of a hard frost. Plastic covers can be disastrous,
as they retain the moisture, which then freezes. A woven, breathable cover allows
ventilation and some moisture exchange, and doesn't encourage fungal diseases.

If cold damage does occur to your trees and shrubs, resist the urge to immediately
prune back the damaged areas. If you prune back the damage too soon, you may en-
courage new budding and growth, which leaves the plant susceptible to the next
threat of cold weather. Try to wait until after the last frost date for your area, which
for Tennessee is early April. Once the threat of subsequent freezes is past, you can prune back branches that seem to be beyond recovery to the point of live, green wood. Be aware that pruning in the spring months will cut away the buds that have already begun to form, reducing the flowers this season, and eliminating the fruits that would have formed on fruiting trees.


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