Taking a tour through the landscape this spring has been quite depressing! Many ornamental shrubs look like they have come through a serious battle and were not necessarily on the winning side. Spotted leaves, dead stems and branches, and leaf loss are rampant on the Indian hawthorns, camellias, gardenias, and many others right now. Much of what we are seeing is damage from the very cold winter we experienced. Many of our shrubs did not have an opportunity to acclimatize to the cooler temperatures prior to those severe freezing temperatures we saw in December. Then, the continued single digit temperatures really put many shrubs to the test. Shrubs that are hardy in our region (USDA Zone 7b) may not be happy in this temperature range, and we are sure to see a few of them as complete losses this spring.
What can be done about these winter battle wounds? If you are seeing winter damage in your own landscape, get out the pruners and rake, and start the cleanup. First, cut out any dieback or severely damaged branches. Prune back to the stems that show green when the bark is scratched. Then, clean up the dead and fallen leaves as they may encourage disease this spring. Wait until mid-April to fertilize with a slow-release or organic fertilizer, as we do not want to encourage premature new growth that may be damaged by a late frost.
Some of your ornamentals may need to be cut back nearly to the ground to find green stems. Be patient as the weather warms and wait for the new growth to appear. If you are not the patient type, maybe it is time to take out the old and bring in the new. Make your way to the nearest garden center and buy replacements or new ones - those shrubs you have always desired. Talk with the folks at your nursery to get ideas of those that thrive in our region.