The City of Galveston Tree Committee encourages residents to be mindful of how they’re caring for trees and plants that may have sustained freeze-related damage.
While it may be tempting to start trimming and removing damaged trees, the best tactic at this time is to continue watering trees on your property and avoid cutting branches or trunks for at least the next several weeks.
Even while cold-stressed, many trees will survive the hard freeze with proper care. It will likely take several months to know for certain whether a tree will recover, which is why it's important to not act too hastily now.
The Tree Committee follows the recommendations of the late William Johnson of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service of Galveston County:
• Keep plants well-watered. Watering is an extremely important plant-saving practice for winter. It is very important that plants — those in containers, as well as in the soil — be provided adequate soil moisture throughout the winter season. The wind in the winter, like the sun in the summer, will dry soils.
• Even though woody plants may appear to be in poor condition, do not do any pruning until late winter or early spring — this applies to all citrus and ornamentals, including palm trees. Heavy pruning now can stimulate new growth which could easily be burned back if another cold snap occurs. Also, it is easier to prune and shape ornamentals after the full extent of damage is known.
• Proper fertilization is key to winter hardiness for many perennial landscape plants. Our local soils are usually low in nitrogen and potassium, the elements plants use to boost their cold protection defense during winter. Even if it’s been a while since you fertilized your perennial landscape plants, do not start fertilizing cold-stressed plants until they have resumed active growth in the spring. The use of fertilizer now may stimulate new growth which is very susceptible to cold injury. Also, fertilizer salts may cause further injury to stressed root systems.
• Damage to most citrus fruit occurs when temperatures fall below 28 degrees for at least four hours. Grapefruits are the most cold-hardy citrus fruit in part because of their thick skins, followed by oranges, mandarin types, lemons and limes. Large and thick-skinned fruit are more cold tolerant than small, thin-skinned fruit. When fruit freezes, it can still be used for juice if quickly harvested.
• Do not be in a hurry to prune plants like hibiscus, pentas, lantana and plumbago. They can be cleaned up a little if they look unsightly or the neighborhood association sends a letter, but don’t cut these plants all the way back unless you’re willing to give up a security layer for the plant. Leave some of the damaged material intact.
• Try to be patient and, where feasible, don’t remove dead leaves and twigs of bananas, umbrella plants, etc. until at least mid-March. Should yet another cold snap occur, the dead foliage can help protect the rest of the plant from cold temperature damages and can aid the plant in a quicker recovery.
• Plants with thick, fleshy roots like cannas, firespike, four o’clocks and gingers can be cut all the way to the ground, and they will regrow next spring. Even after severe freezes, most plants like bougainvillea and hibiscus come back from the roots, so don’t give up on them.
More information is available at the galvestonislandtreeconservancy.org