Writer: Justin Bannister, (575) 646-5981, firstname.lastname@example.org
Homeowners across Southern New Mexico likely have a lot in common this year, namely yards filled with flopped-over cacti, freezer-burnt palm trees and dozens of other landscape plant varieties killed or severely damaged by the cold snap earlier this month. The extent of the damage, as well as what to do about it, will vary according to one expert at New Mexico State University.
"It's difficult to tell what's totally lost," said Jeff Anderson, agronomy and horticulture agent for NMSU's Dona Ana County Extension Office. "We had three days of extremely cold temperatures, which is unusual. That's the critical factor. As an example, we have big saguaros, some that have been here for 30 or 40 years, that may be completely gone."
Anderson said that unless they were well protected, Mexican fan palms, characterized by their slender trunks, most likely didn't survive the bitter cold temperatures. California fan palms, with their thicker trucks, probably fared much better. Needle palms are less common in the area, but are cold hardy to 10-15 degrees below zero.
"Don't cut off the palm fronds. Wait until it gets warm for that. They protect the bud at the center," Anderson said. "If you see the whole top flopped over, though, it's probably dead."
For shorter palm trees, Anderson recommends taking a black marker to draw a line where the newest frond was starting to emerge. If the tree is still alive, its bud will continue to push that frond out over the next few weeks.
Any young plants, especially oleanders, olive trees, fig trees and citrus trees, are probably lost. A lot of agaves and many flowers such as lantanas, agapanthus, red bird of paradise and bougainvilleas most likely didn't fare well either, and will need to be replaced.
"If you don't see new growth by the end of March, or early April, they may be gone," Anderson said. "What I'm hoping is that some of these flowers may be able to come back from the bottom. Oleanders are probably the most common landscaping plant in this area. They appeal to a lot of people."
He said for cactus, the best bet is to cut off and clean up what is dead, mushy or has fallen over, but to leave something at the base. Also, keep the cactus bases as dry as possible. This will help them callus and, hopefully, start new growth.
Anderson said he has heard reports of damage from the severe cold weather as far west as Tucson, as far south as central Mexico and east into parts of Texas.
"We live in a unique area where we can grow plants from cold-hardy all the way to sub-tropical, but for the next few years, many people will probably move to more cold-hardy plants for their landscapes," he said.
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