Texans grapple with what to do with frost damaged palms, plants

Two weeks after the Texas deep freeze, millions of trees and shrubs are left dead, and some are clinging to life.

Many in the Houston area have tall brown palms standing in their yards--some of them turning browner by the day—after temperatures plummeted to the single digits in mid-February.

Do you cut it down, or is there hope it will come back to life? And is it covered by insurance? Those are questions homeowners like Forrest Sims in The Woodlands are asking.

"These were brown from the beginning," said Sims, pointing at the palms next to his back yard pool.

He plans to wait and see before chopping them down.

"Give them a couple of months," said Sims. "Cross your fingers, and maybe they come back. Maybe they don’t."

He spent the day getting a new shipment of mulch and buying new bushes to add some life back to his yard after many of his plants died in the deep freeze.

"Really just what’s available, because we’ve gone to a couple of nurseries, and all their plants are dead," said Sims.

He had luck finding bushes at Spring Gardens Nursery in Spring. The owner used propane heaters to warm the greenhouses, but most of the plants that didn’t fit inside died. Owner Richard Gieseke says it’s something he hasn’t seen in decades.

"In 1983 they died in Houston," said Gieseke. "In 1989 they died in Houston, and nothing has died as far as the big palm trees, except the queen palms which are really sensitive. But these are abnormal conditions, and these palms should have made it, but they didn’t."

He says there are a couple of ways you can tell whether your trees and plants are truly dead or whether they’ll come back to life.

"See the tip on there? I just pulled it out of there," said Gieseke after the top center leaves easily separated from the rest of the palm with the grip of his hand. "That means that that palm is dead."


He says if the center tip is dead, the entire palm is dead.

"And these branches might stay green for another year, but it can grow no new branches because the center core has died," said Gieseke.

On other trees, he says you can use a knife to scrape a branch and check whether the tree is alive. Brown color beneath the bark means it’s dead.

"See how that’s really brown underneath there and there’s no green?" asked Gieseke, scraping the tender bark off a small branch of a tree that stayed outside the greenhouse during the freeze.

Gieseke says a living tree will be green in color beneath the bark, meaning you don’t have to cut it down. The leaves will grow back.

"See that green under there?" asked Gieseke. "The difference is astounding."

So are your thousands of dollars’ worth of palm trees and shrubs covered by insurance? Sadly, that’s highly unlikely, according to Camille Garcia with the Insurance Council of Texas.

"Weather damage due to freezing temperatures or similarly due to our hot Texas summers are not normally covered under a policy," said Garcia. "Your homeowner’s policy insures the building, so if a tree falls on your home, there is coverage to take the tree off and make the repairs to your home. However, replacement of that tree is normally not included in that policy."


She says it’s best to always have a conversation with your insurance agent to determine what is covered under your policy, what are your limits and deductible to make an informed decision on your loss.

She also says you can apply for assistance from FEMA, which has designated funds in the recent disaster declaration to help Texans recover from the winter blast.