Cold fronts seem to hit us by surprise some years. Most importantly, make sure we do not jump the gun on trimming and pruning.
Recent weather predictions do not anticipate any further freeze conditions. However, Mother Nature can always change her mind. Just be mindful that trimming too much too soon will further slow the recuperation process of plants.
Plants with large leaves and fleshy stems like banana plants, elephant ears, spider lilies, gingers, cannas and split-leaf philodendrons will have the most damage. Many of the above plants will not only have brown leaves, but stinky water-soaked greenery. It is extremely important to address these plants quickly.
As water freezes, it actually causes the cell membranes to sever and release the liquid inside, giving the plant the water-soaked appearance. The damage is accelerated in light. That is why tropical plants in full sun often have more damage than those in shaded areas. Also, plants that were left covered for a couple of extra days will be less affected.
For those plants that have obvious damage, the question then becomes whether to cut them back or not. Plants that have bare stems or a few small leaves that appear to have turned black due to the freeze can be trimmed. Excessive pruning could expose the rest of the plant to additional damage if another freeze occurs in the near future.
Keep in mind that some plants, even though severely affected, may possibly regrow from nodes that exist close to the soil level.
An easy way to remember if you should prune or not after a freeze is to practice the phrase "Remove the mush." If the freeze damage to plants shows up as water soaked leaves that are beginning to rot, it is important to get rid of those quickly.
If left unchecked, bacterial and fungal disease can attack these areas and work their way down to the undamaged part of the plants.
Since you are dealing with plants that might have bacterial rots, I'd also suggest taking a bucket of 10 percent bleach water (one part bleach to nine parts water) with you during your cleanup pruning. Dip your clippers in the solution after you cut each branch, and especially before moving to another plant. This simple sanitary practice will help kill bacteria and fungi that could be passed from one plant to another on your clippers.
St. Augustine grass that was still holding on to green leaf blades will probably be more brown than green in the upcoming weeks. Do not panic, our warm season grasses will often turn brown during winter. That is why they are called warm season grasses. Just wait until spring when turf starts growing again and your lawn will green up nicely. Also, don't try to force a greener lawn with fertilizer now. Start fertilizing this month.
Michael W. Potter is a horticulturist with Texas Agrilife Extension Service in Nueces County.