Cold snap puts damper on local gardens, farms

LOGANVILLE - A week ago, the azaleas were in full bloom. The crape myrtles were blossoming and the nandinas were green.

Now, they're limp, brown and mushy at the Vines Gardens in Loganville, the result of record low temperatures over the weekend that damaged plants at the park and countywide.

Robert Brannen, the county extension agent, said because there are few farmers here, Gwinnett did not see the kind of damage other areas of the state had. Some landscapers may have suffered, he said, but most of the damage should have been contained to blooms, and entire plants likely were not lost.

At Washington Farms, owner John Washington said many of his strawberry plants were protected by a layer of ice.

"We lost some blossoms, but the good thing about strawberry plants is they're not like peach or apple trees, where once you lose it, that's it," he said. "They keep producing throughout the season. It affected us, but I think we turned out pretty good."

Washington could not quantify how many of his berry plants lost their blooms, but said the low temperatures coupled with wind made this frost difficult.

Atlanta set record lows Saturday and Sunday, said Meteorologist Mike Griesinger of the National Weather Service. The low on Saturday was 28 degrees, breaking 1982's 29 degree low, and temperatures fell to 30 degrees Sunday, the coldest temperature recorded for that date. The previous low temperature, in 1886, was 32 degrees.

"This was a 120-year freeze," Washington said. "This was real unusual. We get as prepared as we can."

Peggy Moss, a master gardener who works at the Vines Gardens, said they have too many plants on 25 acres to put tarps over all of them. Some azaleas turned brown and fell to the ground, while the leaves of other plants lost their moisture and became limp, then crunchy.

Moss said the best thing they can do is wait. Many of the plants are likely to spring back from the frost damage, she said, while others will shed the damaged flowers and leaves on their own.

She said the freeze will not affect the plants' abilities to bloom next year. And despite the freeze, the Vines Gardens is still a wide array of colors - only the more fragile plants and flowers were hurt by the weather.

"When it's warm, new growth comes out," Moss said. "Everything starts growing, then Mother Nature says, 'A ha!'"

Lex Burbury, the park's maintenance foreman, said he never plants anything until mid-April because the weather can be so unpredictable.

Washington said the risk is just part of farming.

"We're going to lose some berries," he said. "We're off to a rough start."

For more information about Washington Farms, see www.washingtonfarms.net. For information about Vines Gardens Park, call 770-822-8813.