Published on 11/20/08

Cold snaps landscapes

By Faith Peppers
University of Georgia

Recent freezing temperatures have taken a toll on some Georgia landscapes. If you were too slow to mulch or to cover tender plants, you may now see wilted, dark leaves dotting your flower beds. A University of Georgia expert has advice on how to handle the damage and to avoid it.

“On these first several frosts you are going to see obvious frost damage because many plants haven’t dropped their leaves,” said Bob Westerfield, a UGA Cooperative Extension horticulturist. “The damage will usually appear as brown tips on leaves that will then turn black. Just go a couple of inches below the damage and prune it out.”

If you have planted wisely, the damage should only be temporary.

“Most plants that are established and have been in the landscape a year or two will survive these cold snaps,” he said. “You might have to prune out the damage, but they will make it through.”

If leaf burn is severe and unsightly, go ahead and cut it back. The plants won’t produce more leaves now. But since this is only the first cold snap and not the last, he said, you can wait to prune “because we will get hit again, and you can prune it back harder in December or January.”

Feed and water

Plants still need plenty of moisture now, he said. “Plants need that pressure within their stems to withstand the cold. If you don’t have them fully moist they can’t withstand the cold and will get cell damage. Now is the time to wet them down really well before a cold night.”

Most winter annuals will survive fine with proper care. “Most annuals like mums and pansies are very tenacious,” he said. “They might look bad right after the cold, but they will come right out of it.”

Good nutrition helps, too. “Give them some liquid or light granular fertilizer once a month and water well throughout the season,” he said. “They have limited root systems, so they need plenty of food and water.”

Protect plants

Annuals and shrubs need some protection against the cold.

“Some really sensitive plants like hydrangeas or young fig trees need heavy mulch as a blanket of insulation against cold,” he said. “You can get a wire basket, fill it up with leaves and cover the plant to protect it.”

He also recommends making a windscreen from a cardboard box or plastic. But don’t let the plastic touch the plant. It will make the plant colder. If you use plastic, make a tent with it over the plant.

For more tips on protecting landscape plants in winter, call your local UGA Extension agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 or look online at

(Faith Peppers is a news editor for the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Faith Peppers is the director of public affairs with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.