Gardening Tips: Cold Damage

— Written By and last updated by Chrissy Poole

Last week was my monthly question and answer column, where I address a few common questions gardeners have that may not each warrant a full column by themselves. I neglected to answer what may be the question I’ve been most frequently asked over the past few weeks, “What has happened to my gardenias?”

Gardenias really took a pounding this winter. While they are hardy, evergreen plants, their leaves can turn brown or black following periods of exceptional cold. This does not mean that the plant is dead, however. The cold may have been enough to damage the leaves, but stem and bud tissue is much hardier, meaning that the plant should still be able to put out new growth in spring. Some of you with damaged plants may already be seeing new growth starting to emerge.

The question then, is what, if anything, should be done to help these plants along? Heavy pruning will remove much of this summer’s bloom, so that is not advisable. A better solution would be to cut off many of the damaged leaves and watch as new growth starts to form over the next several weeks. If no new growth appears soon, then there isn’t much hope for your plant, but as long as it starts to put out new growth the gardenia should recover well. With so much extra energy being put into generating new leaves, you may see a few less blooms than normal, but it shouldn’t stop the plant from blooming entirely.

Gardenias may have been the hardest hit shrub, but many loropetalum, Indian hawthorn, and azalea bushes were affected in a similar way. Follow the same course of action with each- no heavy pruning, but a light trimming of damaged leaves and a few more weeks of patience as new spring growth emerges. You may want to lightly fertilize these plants to help them along.

Another shrub that saw some winter damage, as it often does, was boxwood. Boxwood leaves will often turn a bronze color during the winter when temperatures are particularly cold. This is true in many years, not just this one. Usually the warm weather in spring and a little bit of fertilizer will help boxwoods return to their natural glossy green color. Please note that not all leaf discoloration can be attributed to cold temperatures. If the boxwood leaves are a light tan color, for instance, this could be a more serious problem such as nematodes or root rot.

With May approaching, it is almost time for the Roanoke Valley Farmers Market to open for the season. This year, the market will open on Saturday, May 3rd. The market will be open Saturdays from 8 to 2 during the month of May,; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8 to 2 during June-August; and Saturdays from 8 to 2 in September and October. Early season vegetables, such as greens, garden peas, onions and potatoes will be available opening week, as well as cut flowers, plants, and baked goods. The Roanoke Valley Farmers Market is located at 378 Highway 158 in Roanoke Rapids.

Matthew Stevens is the horticulture extension agent for Halifax County Cooperative Extension. If you have any questions about this article or other aspects of your home gardening, please contact Matthew at 583-5161 or

Written By

Photo of Matt StevensMatt StevensExtension Agent, Agriculture - Commercial and Consumer Horticulture (252) 459-9810 (Office) matt_stevens@ncsu.eduNash County, North Carolina
Posted on Apr 25, 2014
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