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Evergreen holly (Ilex x meserveae varieties such as
'Blue Princess', 'China Girl', 'Blue Boy' etc.) should be green,
not brown. The cold killed leaves and branches of many of these
plants this winter.
(Go figure: Plants we've seen hurt in milder winters than this,
came through just fine. Take a look at our
example Japanese maple, then compare it to twigs from your
For the holly and other winter-damaged shrubs and trees:
Determine what's dead and cut it out sooner rather than later.
Above, and below: Off-color is a first indication that
there's damage. Much of the foliage on the shrub above and all of
the left-hand twig below were killed by cold.
Below: Not sure it's dead? Scratch the wood. Live wood
is both green and moist beneath the bark. The twig on the right is
live, the twig on the left, dead.
Not sure if the scratched cambium is moist? Press a area to your
cheek. What feels cool is moist.
Below, left: Leaf buds and/or flower buds may remain alive
even when their branch dies, much as a cut flower can remain alive
in a vase. (The left twig has died but its buds are still alive.)
Yet if buds open on a badly damaged branch, they will die as soon
as hot, dry weather comes. For the plant, that's wasted energy.
Better to remove all damaged wood as soon as you can in spring. Cut
back to bare wood if you must.
Below, right: The clustered buds where the holly leaf joins
the stem are flower buds.
Below: Cut a damaged branch to remove all dead wood.
On this holly, it means we reach down along each branch with dead
wood and cut below the damage. What's left is a leafless stick. No
worries: Light and spring growth cycles will cause new shoots to
develop on that stub just below our cut.
Below, right: We can gauge this shrub's growth rate
by the twig color and terminal bud scars. It's been growing about 6
inches per year. At that rate, new shoots from the cut limb will be
able to grow for several years before reaching the outer shearing
line. They will be able to mature, flower and fruit. The shrub will
have a thicker coat of foliage and more berries.
Below: We cut the undamaged branches, too. Those we
cut back far enough that they can grow for a full year within the
height and width limits we've set for the shrub. For a shrub like
this that grows about 6 inches per year, we cut back at least 6
Meanwhile, Japanese maples we
expected to be hurt...
...have come through the coldest winter on record with zero
dieback. See? The twigs scratch green and moist, and a look inside
even the tip-top buds reveals nothing but lively green.
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