Let damaged plants recover first before pruning away

Monday, May 7, 2007 | 2:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:24 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Luckily I had gone outside and taken pictures of my early flowering plants and shrubs before the 20 degrees and below temperatures turned them all into brown and green mush. I only have the pictures of my PJM azalea, Texas flowering quince and flowering plum to enjoy until next year. This was the first year that my “Pig’s Squeal” had bloomed since I had gotten it three years ago.

The whole big deal of the cold snap might play out for several years to come. Businesses, orchards, vineyards, farmers and private homeowners lost a large investment in landscape plants, shrubs and trees. Consumers will have to pay a higher price in fruit or grain related items (wheat straw) from the loss of crops this season.

I heard a newscaster say that the Midwest temperatures were the worst in 10 years. In discussing this with my more seasoned gardening friends who are 70 years and older, they could not remember this unique phenomena in their lifetime.

Don Day in his most recent Master Gardener’s newsletter explained that the weather event that we experienced was unprecedented. That means that during a two-week period in March, we experienced temperatures that were the warmest on record for that same two weeks for 118 years, and the cold snap in April was the coldest on record for that period in 118 years.

The damage is being assessed day by day as plants are “greening up” again. The grape vineyards finally made the news with devastation of their whole or partial grape vines, maybe not seeing a grape harvest until four to five years later. There might be small pockets of trees that survived, but mostly all the fruit harvest for this year is gone.

Therefore, before you decide to do some serious pruning with those sharpened saws, clippers and chain saws, you need to sit back a little while longer and let the plants recover further. Yes, it is OK to remove broken and slit-open branches, but you must consider your safety first with the tasks of removing large and heavy limbs. You should consider leaving that up to professionals who have the right equipment to climb up into large trees and trim out the damaged limbs.

Seasoned gardeners have deep concern about some of the damaged trees (loss of young new leaves, blooms and new stem growth), and that still some are barren almost a month later. There is also concern for the wildlife this winter due to the lack of acorns and other nut crops. They said that some trees “set” their acorns the year before, so they will have acorns this year, while others will be barren this fall. This is a good time to stock up on food for birds and other critters. Be sure to store in a cool, covered and dry location to prevent damage.

To read more about plant damages, go to for articles on “Don’t be too quick with the ax or chain saw” by Chris Starbuck, horticultural specialist, or “Rose damage question answered” by Mary K. Kroening, horticulturist specialist. Starbuck has another article written with reference to the winter storm damage at Another article to read is “Clinic Update: Spring Samples Submitted to the Plant Diagnostic Clinic,” about the severe damage to landscape plants from accumulative stress of drought, excessive waterlogged trees and winter extremes. There is helpful information on taking a sample of your plant in question and submitting it for evaluation.

Karen Ballew works in the MU environmental health and safety department and has been a Master Gardener since 2002. A transplanted farm girl from Indiana since 1973, she lives on her husband’s family Century Farm with their three sons. She enjoys volunteering planting time with Habitat For Humanity homes and digging in the soil. Her favorite plants are the fragrant ones, hostas, good-mannered perennials, ornamental shrubs and food for the birds. She is a confirmed chocoholic and collects vintage fabric. She can be reached at

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