Winterkill

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Many landscapes, perennial gardens, and warm season turf experienced some winterkill from this past winter. Winterkill is a general term that is used to describe plant death that occurs during the winter. It can be caused by a combination of factors that include desiccation (drying out) or actual low temperatures. The extent of winter damage is not known until the plants “wakeup” in the spring.

It is best to give plants plenty of time to green up in the spring. However, if your plants have not greened up by now, they may have been a victim of winterkill. I have seen several figs and hydrangeas where the top growth was killed, but this spring the plants began re-growing from the roots. If this happens, prune out the dead wood,and the plant will be back to its original size in a few years.

Cherry trees and apple trees are a different story. They were hit hard by the winter weather and many never woke up this spring. These trees were not killed by low temperatures. It was actually the fluctuating temperatures (the warm days followed by the cold temperatures) that caused the problems. Some of the plants came out of dormancy and were killed. (If you like keeping up with the climate and weather trends, have a look at the NC Climate Blog by NCSU http://nc-climate.ncsu.edu/climateblog.)

Besides perennial landscape and garden plants, warm season turf was also hit by the fluctuating winter weather. Although most lawns in Caldwell County are tall fescue, there are more and more warm season lawns going in. Warm season turf in Caldwell County is typically bermudagrass. However, there are some zoysia lawns in the county too. A characteristic of warm season turf is it turns brown in the winter but greens back up in the spring. Bermudagrass and zoysia are the two most common warm season grasses in the county.

The NC State University turf specialist, Grady Miller, reported that the hardest hit grasses have been the fine-textured zoysiagrasses (e.g. Emerald, Zeon, Zorro, Pristine, etc.). Damage in the coarse-textured zoysiagrasses (e.g. Empire, El Toro, Zenith, Compadre, etc) and bermudagrass has been sporadic.

Weak turf going into the winter is more susceptible to winter damage than healthy turf. This is actually true for all plants going into winter. A healthy plant better prepares for winter. A standard recommendation for turf is to apply potash in late August before the warm season goes dormant.

Although winter is still many months away, now is the time to prepare your plants. We do not recommend doing heavy pruning after July. Also, we recommend to stop fertilizing landscape plants in July. This allows plants to slow down growth and get ready for winter. If you have a bermudagrass lawn, apply 1.5 to 2 pounds of potash per 1,000 square feet in August.

Written By

Photo of Seth NagySeth NagyCounty Extension Director (828) 757-1290 seth_nagy@ncsu.eduCaldwell County, North Carolina
Updated on Jun 10, 2014
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