Just as many of us started to decorate our rooms and porches for the holidays with plants, along came a fierce storm to complicate their...

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Just as many of us started to decorate our rooms and porches for the holidays with plants, along came a fierce storm to complicate their survival.

Use a break in the chilly weather to check the plants. Here are a few care tips and some information on what may recover and what should be tossed.


Poinsettias cannot take cold breezes. The plants may have drooped in chilly entryways or rooms. They won’t revive with warmth, and should be replaced. Wrap poinsettias well when carrying them from the nursery to your car.

Rosemary trees, handsome herbs, do best in a bright place indoors but can take temperatures down to about 40 degrees. Keep them watered — once a week is usually fine — but don’t drown them. They do not need fertilizer. They can winter over on a sheltered porch, but bring them indoors if temperatures drop. Trim growth to keep the tree form.


Plants buried in the snow may have suffered less damage than those that were bare when temperatures plunged into the teens in some areas.

How your plants fared will depend on your location and garden conditions, but here are some probabilities.

• Goners: Geraniums, impatiens and all summer annuals are a loss even though some were perking along through November’s rains. They won’t recover from the freeze.

Many gardeners had been able to leave tender geraniums (Pelargonium sp.) on porches through the past few winters, but not this year. Look for replacements.

Tropicals, such as echeveriasand clivia, probably froze and turned to jelly when they thawed out. Replace these, too.

Probably OK: Survival rates for hardy plants depend on how much soil is around the roots, which freeze more quickly than stems and buds. Plants in the ground do better than plants in pots. However, perennials in big pots — 24 inches up to half-barrel size — may have survived nicely.

Winter pansies and primroses lost buds and blooms in the chill but may recover. Pick off the dead buds.

Herbaceous perennials in very small pots — like the gallon-size ones in my own garden — may be dead. Group these plants together and watch them as the months go by. Foliage may look dead now but revive come spring.

For roses, prune out badly broken branches but hold off on any major pruning until the end of February. Many established shrub roses will come back, but some very tender hybrid teas could refuse to bud in the spring.

Rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias that suffered frozen buds will have fewer blooms next year, but the plants will return to normal growth with normal weather.

Be patient; some plants may not revive until May or June.

• Just fine: Recently planted spring bulbs — tulips, daffodils and such — will be OK.

Trees and shrubs will be fine, too. Prune off any broken branches. An exception may be marginally hardy shrubs like escallonia, which may die back to the roots.

Garden expert Mary Robson, retired area horticulture agent for Washington State University/King County Cooperative Extension, appears regularly in digs and in Practical Gardener in Northwest Life on Wednesdays. Her e-mail is marysophia@olympus.net.