Some indoor gardeners may be dismayed this spring at the parched brown look of supposedly evergreen plants, such as magnolias, hollies and camellias. As you drive to work or go about on other errands in the metropolitan area, you can't help being aware of the many apparently dead plants in private gardens and public parks.

You are observing perhaps the worst winter kill of ornamental plants in this area in at least 15 years, which is causing great concern among homeowners and other plant lovers. "It is still too early to pronounce final judgement," say Extension ornamental horticulture specialists at the University of Maryland, College Park. "Many shrubs showing cold-weather damage are capable of amazing comebacks. There will be some losses, but many of these broad-leaved evergreens will be shedding winter-damaged brown leaves soon and replacing them with shine new green foliage."

The low temperatures and duration of cold this past winter were without equal. The ground froze to a depth of 18 to 24 inches. Many dead and severely damaged ornamental trees and shrubs are the result. Water in the ground was frozen but transpiration (the movement of water out through the leaves into the air) still occurred, drying out the plants. Lack of hardiness of some varieties and wind exposure on cold days were added critical factors.

Indoor gardeners may already have guessed the effect of the Florida freezes on plants of special interest to them. Those unprecedented freezes caused Florida nurserymen to suffer heavy damage to plant materials in the houseplant category. Consequently, popular indoor plants are likely to be in short supply and more expensive in the immediate future.