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Good Gardening: Cold Damage

John Fischer

In Search and Rescue operations we always say no one should be assumed dead until they are warm and dead. The same is true for your plants.

The late season cold of the last few weeks has certainly damaged sensitive buds and overwintering vegetables like kale and leeks, but the only way to know how badly damaged the plants are is to wait.

Don't cut off seemingly dead branches, or tear out leafless plants until the weather has warmed, or you may be getting rid of things that will be fine in the future.

A few years ago, two nights of subzero cold killed the tops of fig trees throughout the valley. Many people cut down the dry brittle plants, but I left mine - maybe I was too busy, maybe I was lazy, or maybe I still had hope. Sure enough, in June - two months later than usual - buds started appearing, and by September I had a bumper crop of fruit. The folks who cut the possibly dead figs down in the spring had to wait for years to get their plants back into production.

I have kale in the garden right now that looks dead, but it too will likely put on new growth when the weather finally turns more spring-like.

I always leave broccoli in the ground for a year. While most of the production comes in the summer, a last push of shoots from seemingly dead plants often occurs in March or April - twelve months after the plants first went into the ground.

Fortunately, plants seem to be smarter than we are. They know when the weather will be problematic. My peaches that bloomed in January a few years ago still have little more than swelling of the buds this year.

A lot of us get antsy to start garden work in the spring, but if you follow the easy path, don't trim things now, and instead wait for warmth, you may get more produce with less work.

John Fischer is a Master Gardener and Master Recycler and the host of KLCC's Good Gardening and Living Less Unsustainably.