Here’s how the winter storm is affecting local gardens

The Rose Garden is seen following February’s winter storm at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.

Nursing sophomore Brianna Reed’s backyard holds more than 40 trees and several large flower beds for a garden she calls “her mother’s masterpiece.”

Reed enjoys gardening because it allows her to be self-sufficient while spending time with her mom. It’s good to have food you grow yourself in case things happen, she said, especially after seeing COVID-19 panic buying clean out the grocery stores.

Reed and her mother grow things like broccoli, strawberries, cabbage and kale in their backyard. But when the winter storm hit, record-breaking lows were seen for the first time in decades. Temperatures dropped below freezing in the Metroplex, leaving most of Reed’s vegetation open to the elements.

Not thinking the storm would be as bad as it was, Reed said their garden was hit hard when they didn’t cover it with a tarp, and most of their plants rotted. Even the small citrus trees they had tried to protect in the shade nearly died.

“Everything now just looks like sticks,” she said.

Bob Byers, assistant director and vice president of horticulture at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, said there are two things the staff tries to do when they know it’s going to get cold.

They make sure that everything is watered, since plants tend to do better when properly hydrated, and they cover up the plants, either with mulch or frost cloth.

The spring bulbs of flowers like tulips and daffodils did well in the cold as long as they hadn’t produced flowers yet. They’re tough bulbs, Byers said.

Plants like violas and wallflowers were fine on the lower parts, but the damage needed to be cut back. They’ll rebloom a bit later and probably won’t produce as many flowers, but they’ll come back, he said.

The rose gardens had a fair amount of damage from frost burns, he said. In the short term, Byers said the rose gardens likely got the worst of it, and the evergreens near the front entrance faced some injury, too.

As bad as the damage may be, Byers thinks the majority of plants in the gardens will recover from the storm’s impact.

“It’ll take them a little while to fill back in and start looking good again,” he said. “But I think by early summer most of [the plants] should be recovered to the point where they’re starting to contribute to the landscape again.”

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is a significant part of people’s lives; some come to the gardens from the time they’re infants, Byers said. He believes it’s important to take care of the gardens because having an open green space full of beautiful things can help improve the physical and mental health of its visitors.

Byers also confirmed that with proper water circulation and oxygen, the thousands of Koi fish that live in the ponds of the Japanese Garden are OK.

Chrissie Segars, extension turfgrass specialist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas, is part of a program that breeds drought and cold-tolerant grass cultivars.

The winter storm brought a decent amount of snow cover, which is good because it helps insulate the ground and keeps the soil from getting too cold, Segars said.

While snow cover likely prevented widespread damage on turf grass, there is still potential for winter injury to occur, she said.

To see if a plant has survived harsh weather, Byers said to use your fingernail to scratch the bark off a stem and see if it’s green underneath. He said green means part of the plant is still alive.

Mengmeng Gu is a professor and extension specialist in the horticultural sciences department at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in College Station. She said it’s important to wait before doing anything drastic or new as it’s too early to tell the full extent of the damage.

In a way, plants are like humans, she said. Her rosemary plant turns gray the same way a person gets pale when cold.

But each plant is different, a combination of unique genetics, circumstances and care. Though Gu’s rosemary plant might recover, it doesn’t mean someone else’s will.

Even with the method for scratching the bark, it still takes time for the green to become black. She said death, unless it’s a sudden event, is a process for humans, and it’s the same way for plants.

In a few weeks or months when the temperature starts to rise, the plant will tell you, Gu said. Some will be dead, but others might reveal a new leaf.


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