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Put down those pruners!

Tips on dealing with frost-damaged plants

By Barbara Wood, Special to the Almanac

With nighttime temperatures dropping near or below freezing for more than a week, Peninsula gardeners are seeing frost damage in their gardens not experienced for many years.

Once the weather warms up, the temptation may be great to rush into the garden and cut back everything that appears to be have been damaged. But those in the know say one thing – "Don't do it."

"Do nothing until the spring," says Portola Valley's Danna Breen, local horticultural expert, garden designer and owner of Danna Breen Designs.

"When you prune you stimulate growth and you do not want to do that now," with more cold weather ahead, she says.

By spring, Ms. Breen says, she means around mid-March when nights are consistently in the 50s.

"You also want to assess in spring," says Ms. Breen. "There are plants like begonias which may re-sprout." Look for any new growth around the base of plants before taking them out, she says.

To minimize the damage in cold weather, make sure the garden is well-watered, she advises. "It is important for water to be in vascular system of plant. It is a form of protection. Without water, and we have had so little rain, plants do wither and die," Ms. Breen said.

When spring does arrive, "plants will need to be cleaned up, because no doubt many will have been lost, but you just don't want to stimulate new and fragile growth to more cold nights," she says.

Plants such as citrus may appear to be dead, but with patience and warm weather. new growth may appear.

Even the plant wizards among us, like Ms. Breen, are not exempt from frost damage. "I forgot to close the window in my green house and I just went and saw that my Hibiscus "Haight Ashbury" has shriveled up," she says.

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