Before January 2014, most of us had never even heard of a polar vortex, let alone actually experienced one. Was it a monster? A new rock band … or maybe a villain in a creepy sci-fi movie?
Today those two little words are a part of our everyday vocabulary, and after having survived record-shattering snow falls and cold temperatures, it’s safe to say we’re all looking forward to spring.
But what about our poor plants? Did the evil polar vortex kill them, or make them stronger? The short answer is this: we just don’t know yet.
There are lots of different factors that contribute to plant injury. First of all, it depends on the species and hardiness of the plant and how healthy they were in the first place. Secondly, it depends on how low the temperatures plunged and how long they stayed there, among other things.
Here is the good news: most plants were well into their dormant period before the polar vortex hit. And the protective covering of snow (even though we were sick of it) served as a natural insulation.
However, some trees and shrubs that have risen in popularity over the last 20 years may not prove to be cold hardy. This includes such trees like: Zelkova, Tulip, London Plane, Redbud and Dogwood. This spring, the most likely thing you’ll notice is some dieback of twigs, and winter burn of your evergreens (like Hemlock or Norway spruce) – especially if they are planted in open and unprotected areas. This is due to the extreme low temperatures we experienced, which were often accompanied by brutal, high winds. Unfortunately, the most susceptible of plants are the broad-leaf evergreens.
Winter dessication injury is another concern after such an extreme season. This happens when the amount of water lost by the foliage exceeds the amount picked up by the roots. On sunny days – particularly when it’s windy and soil water is frozen – the plant is unable to absorb moisture. Once we experience warmer temperatures, any of these related injuries will appear as brown leaf margins or needle tips.
As for your flowering plants, you can bet they were more sensitive to the cold. You might see significant bud loss, or even a season without blooms.
Overall, species that are classified as only marginally hardy will likely experience die back (or even death), but you might not notice until temperatures are consistently warmer. So we suggest that you hold off on any major pruning until you can assess the damage thoroughly.
Another big area of landscaping concern is snow and salt damage. With some mounds of plowed or drifted snow reaching 8 feet (or higher), your trees and shrubs located near roads or drives were probably buried. If you suspect any of your landscaping is suffering from salt damage, you’ll want to lightly spray off foliage to wash the salt away as soon as the snow cover melts. In addition, water the soil to a depth of 6 in., in order to help flush salt from the roots of the plant.
The bottom line is this: the healthier your plants were last fall, the better their chances are for polar vortex survival. If you need help with assessing plant damage, as well as landscape repair or replacement, contact us. We’re here to help.