Margaret Lauterbach

Margaret Lauterbach: Cold kills plant life in the Valley

We luxuriated in one of the warmest autumns on record, then as if a once-friendly door were slammed, the thermometer plummeted to one degree above zero on Nov. 15, 2014. We weren’t ready for winter then, and neither were our trees, shrubs or ornamentals. Many were killed.

Loss of plant life has occurred all over the valley, and it may be more extensive than we suspect. The Boise Community Forestry division of Parks and Recreation hadn’t yet surveyed the parks to assess damage as of this writing. Many had called about damage in their yards, and the community foresters are advising concerned homeowners to wait and see if plants recover.

We’ve had colder weather than one degree above zero that our trees, shrubs and perennials have survived, but those cold years saw a gradual cooling to the icy weather. Last November, the cold was a sudden blast. About a week earlier, the temperature had been 69 degrees.

Some shrubs will come back from the roots. I lost two Buddleias (butterfly bushes). Even the roots were dead. I suspect, since we’ve been slammed for the last three years or so by such a sudden plunge in temperature, that this will happen again and again. I replaced my Buddleias with lilacs, which have a similarly shallow nectar supply for butterflies and bees, plus a wonderful aroma. They’re also very tough and resilient.

I am concerned about my mulberry tree that hasn’t yet leafed out. The Zizyphus jujuba (Jujube) tree is always alarmingly late to leaf, so I’m confining my concern to the mulberry and the quince tree that now has spotty leaves.

One friend said she’d lost 80 percent of her rose bushes to winter kill.

Scrape the bark of any woody plant with your thumbnail to see if it’s alive or dead. If you find green, it’s still alive. If you find black or brown dry material, it’s dead. Some plants will come back from the roots. If a rose shrub sprouts from its grafted roots, you won’t get the rose you expect. You may want to just remove it.

If the scrape on a rose cane reveals wet reddish material, it has bacterial cane disease (not winter kill). If possible, remove that cane several inches below your scrape. If you still see a red ring on the cut, you’ve probably lost the rose shrub.

Pull or dig it out, setting aside the “fill dirt,” dig the hole larger and plant a new rose, with fill dirt from another part of your yard to avoid replant disease.

make use of your weeds

What do you do with your weeds? Hoe them or pull them, then what?

Weeds are known to pull in nutrients from deeper earth than most plants’ roots. Some people gather up the weeds and put them in landfill-bound trash. The landfill doesn’t need those plant nutrients.

Other gardeners lay pulled weeds on their garden beds to decompose, dropping nutrients and performing as mulch. It’s not tidy, but it’s getting some payback at least, to keep those nutrients on site for your own plants. It’s best, of course, to remove weeds when they’re tiny. A hoe slicing off the leaves of most weeds kills them.

If you have weedy runner-producing grasses such as quack grass, I’ve found a Cobrahead weeder works great to snag those underground root extensions with piercing tips. Its angle is fine for delving into the soil and bringing those white-tinged runners to light. Then a careful pull can remove several inches of potential grass nodes from your soil.

If your weeds are going to seed, though, the landfill may be the best option unless your compost pile gets sufficiently hot to kill seeds. In the landfill they’ll probably be buried so deep they’ll never germinate.

Some folks eat their weeds. Dandelion greens, for instance, may be eaten as salads, in soup, or lightly sauteed or stir fried. The greens are rich with vitamins A, C, iron and calcium. The root can be used as a coffee substitute, similar to chicory. The plant has curative properties and can even be used to manufacture rubber.

Other edible “weeds” include purslane, a succulent ground hugger that’s very common in vegetable gardens. Some seed companies sell seeds of dandelions and purslane. I enjoy watching baby sparrows gobble dandelion seeds.

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.