How to deal with winter damage to shrubs….
Here in the South East (of England), we’re assessing the winter damage to our gardens.
The real problems weren’t caused by the snow, freezing winds or low temperatures of late February.
Lucy Adams, Head Gardener of Doddington Place Gardens, told me that the real issue was the week of warm weather at the beginning of March, just before low temperatures, snow, ice and wind returned. Sap started rising and shrubs started budding.
When the bad weather hit, the plants were much more vulnerable than they would have been a month earlier. ‘The temperature here at Doddington suddenly went down to minus 14 (centigrade),’ she says. It had been around nine or ten degrees the week before.
What does winter damage look like?
My lavender had tiny buds on it. Many of these look burnt. And almost all the leaves have fallen off my privet hedge.
So I went to Doddington Place Gardens to ask Lucy what I should do about my winter damage.
‘I’ve never before seen such a wide range of shrubs and trees affected,’ she said. ‘We’ve got leaf drop and scorched leaves on pittosporum, ceanothus, euphorbia, crinodendron, griselinia and eucalyptus.
What do about winter damage to shrubs?
Lucy’s advice is to ‘wait and see.’ Patience is the key, because some winter-damaged shrubs will grow back but there’s not a great deal you can do to encourage them.
She advises you to clear weeds around the roots, so that shrubs aren’t having to compete for nutrition. ‘A layer of mulch will probably help, too.’ She doesn’t think high dosage fertilisers will necessarily help, but a few inches of garden compost, well-rotted manure or mushroom compost is a good idea.
Should you cut off the damaged shoots?
Lucy says that if you prune back the damaged part of the plant, you may shock it too much. ‘Wait until it’s the normal time to prune that plant,’ she advises. There is a ceanothus at Doddington which has one side burnt by freezing wind, while the other side is fine. Lucy is going to see whether the damaged part will re-grow. She may cut that part back – right down to the ground – but not until she’s waited to see whether it bounces back and pushes up new shoots.
So no pruning until the appropriate time! However much you long to ‘tidy the plant up.’
Lucy is particularly concerned about a very large pittosporum which dominates a border at Doddington. She doesn’t want to hurry any decision to take it out, although it does look very scorched. It would leave a very large gap in the border.
But she is encouraged by ‘the scratch test’. Scratch away a little bit of bark with your finger or a knife. If there’s green underneath, then the plant is still alive. There is green under the bark of the pittosporum.
You can see Matt Jackson going into more detail about this test here in this video:
And if the shrub has died?
There is a stripey variegated euphorbia at Doddington Place. It’s looking very sick. Lucy doesn’t hold out much hope for it, because variegated euphorbias are more tender than the plain green ones. ‘I’m going to wait and see if it pushes out new growth at its base,’ she says. ‘But if it doesn’t, I’ll take it out.’
It’s usually wisest not to plant the same variety of shrub in a spot where a previous one has died. So I asked Lucy if she’d be able to plant another variegated euphorbia there. ‘A plant that’s died of bad weather probably hasn’t been affected by fungus in the soil,’ she says. ‘So you can usually plant another of the same variety there.’
So to sum up…
‘Just watch and wait.’ That’s my favourite kind of gardening advice. It’s ‘no-effort’ and doesn’t cost anything.
Doddington Place Gardens, near Faversham, Kent, is open to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays 11am-5pm between 1st of April and 30th of September. And you can read its very interesting garden blog. Finally, here are a few photos to show that most of Doddington Place Gardens has bounced back beautifully.
There’s more Doddington Place and an interview with Lucy here in this video:
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