If there is any consolation, you are not alone, as people all over our area are experiencing the same thing. The hard freeze that we had for two nights in January, which was preceded by a stretch of unseasonably warm temperatures in the mid-80s, is the culprit. Bottlebrush (Callistemon) growing in our area normally withstands temperatures in the 20s, but in this instance the trees were not prepared for what hit them! While outer limbs and stems immediately showed signs of freeze damage, other sections were tough enough, or sheltered enough, to hold their leaves, masking internal injuries. Now that the weather has become hot and humid, those damaged tissues are collapsing and injured plants are going into survival mode by aborting their top growth in favor of completely regenerating from their base.
You should see suckers forming at the bottom of your plant. If so, cut down all of the old trunks to a level just above the fresh growth and it should flush out quickly, regaining its former size in a few years. You could apply some fertilizer or composed cow manure to give it an additional kick-start.
If you are not willing to go through this experience again, you may want to replace your plant with the variety ‘Woodlander’s Red,’ which is especially cold tolerant. If you are feeling adventurous and don’t mind dealing with occasional freeze damage, an internet search may lead you to snag bottlebrush varieties with white, yellow, pink and plum- colored flowers.
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