Spring weather can be pretty fickle in many parts of the country. One day it’s sunny and in the 60s, and the next there’s a blizzard. If you decide to take advantage of one of those nice days and prep or plant a spring garden, then wake up the next morning to find to a fresh coat of frost covering your plants and/or seedlings, it can be crushing. But it doesn’t mean your garden is a goner. Here’s how to rescue your plants after a late frost.
Even if everything in your garden appears to be dead after a late frost, that’s not necessarily the case, according to Montgomery County Master Gardner Sandra Goss. In an article for the Houston Chronicle, Goss breaks down exactly what to do in a situation like this, starting with understanding that all your spring gardening work so far hasn’t been for nothing.
Hold off on pruning (for the most part)
As tempting as it might be to trim all the dead bits off your sad-looking post-frost plants, Goss says that’s actually a bad idea (at least until you know you’ve seen the last of the frost). Here’s why:
The first rule is not to trim or prune plants until you know that time for all frosts has passed and spring is here. The dead material works as an insulator in case of any future freezes. If there is freeze damage the extent of it will depend on the type of plant, its age and location, soil moisture retention, how low the temperatures were, and for how long. When pruning, watch for new growth. Be careful not to remove any living tissue that has survived the freeze.
Go ahead and trim the leaves of bulbs that have sprouted
If you planted bulbs the previous fall, they may start popping up early enough in the spring that there’s still a risk of frost. If this is the case, and the leaves on the plant have been damaged by the frost, Goss says it’s OK to trim them. In fact, they may have already turned to mush. But even if you find mushy leaves on your tulips, there’s no need to kiss them goodbye. Per Goss:
If the bulbs have been in the ground for a while, they probably have deep enough roots so that even if the leaves did turn to mush once cleared away, they will sprout new leaves. The flower stem will develop independently of the leaves. Most bulbs need to go through a period of cold weather anyway to stimulate the growth of the flower stem. As long as the flower buds have not sprouted they will probably be alright.
Don’t overfeed or overwater
In situations where a plant really does sustain a lot of leaf damage, Goss says that you should keep in mind that it has the same root system as it did before the big freeze. No, plants don’t love when this happens, but they can pull through—they just need time to recover, Goss explains:
Give the plants time to grow their new leaves at their own rate. Apply little or no fertilizer and irrigate less than usual. Too much water can damage the roots as the plants do not have the leaf structure to absorb it.
After living through a year of one disappointment after another, it’s comforting to know that plants are also resilient.