Landscape plants, Christmas trees sustained cold injury
RAYMOND, Miss. -- The hard freeze that swept Mississippi on March 19 and 20 dampened some of spring’s early displays and left many landscape plants with unsightly cold damage.
Now, homeowners are wondering what to do about their landscape plants that lost their leaves or have brown-tipped or brown, shriveled leaves.
Eddie Smith, horticulture specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service in Pearl River County and host of Southern Gardening, said the early arrival of spring temperatures put plants about two weeks ahead of schedule with blooming and new spring growth. This set them up for unavoidable cold damage. Despite how they look, many plants will recover just fine.
“I’ve been out and looked at several plants this week that people were concerned about,” Smith said. “There are some varieties of crape myrtles that all the leaves turned brown and fell off. But it’s only a few varieties. And those will leaf back out and be fine. There is no need to prune them. They will take care of themselves.”
Other plants he has observed with damage are azaleas, gardenias, loropetalums, camellias and sago palms.
“A lot of plants were putting out new growth and flower buds just as the freeze hit, and that is when the plant is most vulnerable to freezing temperatures,” Smith said. “How much damage they got really depends on where the plant was in its growth cycle.”
Homeowners can begin to clean up some of the damaged foliage. For plants that have already bloomed, such as azaleas and camellias, Smith said homeowners can go ahead and prune those plants as they normally would.
“In general, you can prune blooming plants after they have bloomed,” he said.
Plants that had just set blooms may not bloom this year. However, Smith encourages homeowners not to prune anything that has not bloomed yet, such as gardenias and hydrangeas.
“You want to be especially mindful of hydrangeas. You need to know what variety you have because some bloom on old wood and some bloom on new wood. If you prune now, and the plant didn’t get much damage, you could prune away this year’s blooms,” he said.
Damage to loropetalums, sago palms and any green shrubbery can be pruned away without harming the plant.
Smith pointed out that homeowners may see other trees and plants in their landscape with damage, including oak trees, fig trees and vines.
“I’ve seen oak trees that have lost their leaves, but they will leaf back out and be fine,” he said. “I’ve got a confederate jasmine vine in my yard, and I think it got bitten back. It may not survive.
“For people with fig trees, they may not get any figs this year. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do. Just make sure you fertilize them and water them well,” Smith said.
Some Christmas trees in the southern part of the state had varying degrees of cold injury. Some 1-year-old trees died.
“Trees in the southern area of the state weren’t completely dormant like trees in the northern part of the state,” said Jeff Wilson, Extension horticulture specialist based at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona. “We didn’t have any damage to the Christmas trees here at the station in Verona.”
For south Mississippi producers, damage management will vary. Some growers will need to sheer the trees to remove moderate and extreme damage. Growers with light damage can let new growth take over without needing to sheer the damaged branches.
“I’ve talked with growers who have sheered their trees and with other growers who didn’t,” Wilson said. “It is very much a case-by-case basis.”
Growers who had damage will see an impact to their sales.
“Some will be selling smaller trees than expected this year,” he said. “Because sales are based on tree height, that means growers will lose money. For growers who lost their 1-year-old trees, their sales in 2025 and 2026 will be affected.”
Wilson noted that the degree of cold injury to plants varies widely across the state. For more specific local information on how to deal with cold injury, reach out to the local Extension office.
For more information about cold injury to landscape plants and palms in Mississippi, download Extension Information Sheet 1663, “The Plant Doctor – Cold Injury,” and Extension Publication 2828, “Cold Injury to Palms.”