Damage from a Polar Vortex Winter

June 1st, 2014

The coldest winter in decades, what damage did it do to the garden? Well, so far, I don’t know I lost any plants, nothing actually died, though a few I’m wondering about.

I’m not sure if it was the cold or something else, but my pear tree barely flowered, my honeycrisp apple tree didn’t flower at all (sadface) and my golden delicious apple tree barely flowered. It wasn’t like two years ago, where we had an early warm up, flowers, and then a hard cold snap right during the flowering stage and mine, and 90% of Michigan’s, apple crop was destroyed. This year we had a cold Spring, but once it did warm up, it stayed warm, the plants simply did not flower. I suppose that the extra, long lasting (months without a day above freezing) cold damaged the flower buds over the winter. So that is really disappointing.

All of my roses, all of my roses, even by “sub zero” roses, and my climbing rose which has never had dieback, died back to the ground and are sending up new canes. The grafted ones look like the new canes are still above the graft but I’m not 100% sure.

Winter Damage on Cedrus deodara Karl Fuchs

Many of my evergreens showed winter burn. This essentially comes from dehydration and is caused by a combination of cold, long term cold, wind & sun exposure. My cedrus deodara Karl Fuchs, which is only supposedly marginally hardy here in Michigan, survived, with some internal dieback/winter burn (needle loss) on the middle lower area, but it is already putting on new growth so, after a generationally cold winter, surviving, I say it will survive in Michigan. Of course I also have it tucked in by a large spruce protecting it from drying winter winds/sun.

Winter Damage on dwarf alberta spruce

My dwarf Alberta spruces, I say that again, dwarf Alberta spruces, had significant winter burn, they are on a western exposure so did get a lot of drying winter sun, but I thought they would do better than this. They are already putting on new growth though.

Winter Damage on Chamaecyparis obtusa Nana Lutea

My dwarf, standard form, yellow dwarf hinoki cypress, also had significant winter burn and die back – I am not quite sure if this tree will make it yet or not, it grows so so so slowly I don’t know if it has any new growth on it or not yet.

My three deciduous conifers all are doing fine. I have a weeping larch (definitely hardy) a bald cypress (a southern tree I’m really pushing the hardiness on) and a metasequoia ‘Gold Rush’ which I’m also really pushing the hardiness on. All are doing fine, but regenerating needles yearly means they aren’t at risk of winter burn, but I had no dead limbs or anything either. I can say that it seems to me metasequoia ‘Gold Rush’ is hardier than the species form of that tree, as I know of a planting where both were planted and the species form was killed one winter before.

My weeping red japanese maple, also at the northern limit of its hardiness, is fine as well.

In summary, I have a good excuse to clean out the rose garden, my fruit production is going to be very low this year (which is the worst part), but it looks like none of my trees or other plants actually died, which considering I am aggressive with my zoning is pretty good I think. Of course, a lot of them are looking kind of ratty and will need a good season of growth to look good again.

7 Responses to “Damage from a Polar Vortex Winter”

  1. Sarah M.  Says:

    I live in Tennessee. I unfortunately rent so the gardening I do is in containers. I put my corn in a month ago and it is already above my knee! I live right at the base of the Smoky Mountains. It is so great to have a long growing season. I am sure you will love it.

  2. Teresa Marie  Says:

    Sadly in my experience in Chicago mirrors yours. Once the evergreen burns, Shrub damage mostly to hydrangeas and all roses down to the ground. I had a wall of ivy I’m a house for 10 years which all died. I’m going to have to think of the preparing the garden this fall for the next Polar Vortex. #climatechange

  3. Charlie@Seattle Trekker  Says:

    Your post was really useful. For quite some time I thought I was loosing plants because of something I was doing. With the help of fellow gardeners I have come to believe the swings in our weather are for real and so is the impact. Lately I have lost plants that have grown and thrived for over a decade in my garden, well established plants that couldn’t adapt to such wide swings. I have become very thoughtful about what I plant and choosing the best location. If a plant is not evergreen I have been really careful to assist them to get ready for winter.

  4. Thomas  Says:

    NJ was greatly affected by the “Polar Vortex”.Hydrangeas did not die but Few have flowered and I’m talking well-established plants(10-15 years)
    Everyone I know who didn’t cover their fig trees ,don’t have Fig Trees anymore.I had one for 35 years and never covered (like my grandfather used to) and I did not get any buds nor leaves so in early June I cut all branches down to tyhe ground(Some 12ft high) and now I’m getting sprouts from the bottom of the tree,Thank God.

  5. Theresa  Says:

    No fear, my father would cut down the fig trees to about a foot off the ground and they would come back each year. We lived in Norther NJ, and had some vicious winters back in the 50’s and 60’s, and the tree survived! You gotta love those figs!!!!

  6. Francesco Delvillani  Says:

    What temperature did you reach?

  7. Administrator  Says:

    That winter…. negative 20 probably, maybe negative 25. The problem was the length of time, we had several weeks of below 0. We had more days below 0 than above freezing. This is in F, not C.

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