Spring is (finally) here. Gardeners are caught up in shopping and planting mania.
As usual our springs are short-lived and unpredictable. The temperature hovers at 80 degrees one day and 46 degrees the next day. The flowers are often as confused as their caretakers.
Many of my plants recovered from the two cold spells; some, sadly, did not. My burnt and brown loquat tree with its once glossy green leaves and fragrant flowers was the first to go as it had no signs of life. It was a hard loss so I hid in the house while my landscapers removed it.
Experienced gardeners were advising others to wait until April and May to see what survived. We are now there and many gardeners will have evaluated a plant’s health and future. I have a camellia with a large hole in the middle. Since I tend to procrastinate, I am still seeking signs of life on a few plants. The good news is that many plants in my garden laughed at the cold and stood untouched.
My good friend Victoria Dubose of Bloomin’ Miracles said the evergreens seemed to have taken the worst hit and I agree with her. I have been out to visit and shop the nursery many times in the last weeks seeking tea and sympathy and advice. She and her spouse Dave have had many new plants, especially magnificent native azaleas in full bloom. At each visit I left with a car of fresh faces. Support our local nursery people as they get back to normal. The polar plunge hurt them especially hard. Throwing away hundreds of expired plants is a difficult and costly job.
I am trying to remember what Hayes Jackson of Longleaf Botanical Gardens and The County Extension Office once told me as I teared up over a dead plant: “A dead plant is an opportunity.” I took nature’s wrath as a chance to change my landscaping and add new faces to my garden.
Experts have told me that by the middle of April we may begin to prune back dead parts. Too early (for me) to make a decision about whole plants (except for the loquat).
I questioned Quint Davis of Davis Landscaping who helps make my garden beautiful. He told me some customers were taking up plants and others were still waiting.
Steve Bender, Southern Living’s Grumpy Gardener, shared his (often irreverent) thoughts on his Facebook page in early April.
THE FROST DEATH WATCH CONTINUES
Grumpy’s mailbox is inundated right now with pleas from desperate readers asking what to do about all their plants that got whacked by the freeze at Christmas and the frost in March. Prune now? Pull ‘em up? Pray and wait?
I got nothing against prayer, but pretty soon you need to make some hard decisions, especially for evergreens that are totally brown. If your shade trees and deciduous plants have leafed out and your torched bushes show no signs of life, I’d say give the latter two more weeks to do so before throwing in the trowel.
Broadleaf evergreens took the worst hit, because the suddenness of the freezes following mild spells took them by surprise and didn’t give them enough time to withdraw water from their leaves. Ice crystals formed inside the leaves, burst the cells, and killed the foliage. In some cases, needle leaf evergreens were hit too.
Here are a few ways to determine a toasted shrub’s fate.
• Scratch the bark on a branch or stem to see if you can find green underneath. If you can, that branch or stem is still alive and may recover. If you can’t, it’s dead.
• Use your thumb to push gently on leaf and flower buds. If they easily pop off, that’s bad.
• Gently bend a stem. If it’s limber and doesn’t snap, that’s good.
• Inspect the base of the plant. If you see new growth sprouting there but not on the top, the plant has died to the ground and is growing back. It’s up to you how long you wish to wait for the plant to regain its former size.
FRIED PLANT ASSESSMENT
At my north-central Alabama house in USDA Zone 8A, the temperature around Christmas dropped from the high 40s to nine degrees with high winds in less than 24 hours. I know the drop was much worse farther north. Just from walking around the hood, here’s my assessment of how well or poorly popular evergreens fared here. If they fared poorly, it doesn’t mean don’t ever plant them again. The Christmas freeze was a freak event that happens every 20 years or so. Also keep in mind that older, established plants are hardier than newly planted ones.
• Azalea — Moderate damage
• Boxwood — Moderate
• Camellia — Moderate
• Cast-iron plant — Moderate to toast
• Confederate jasmine — Toast
• Distylium — Moderate to toast
• Florida anise — Not a scratch
• Gardenia — Moderate to toast
• Golden euonymus — If it’s not already dead, kill it
• Holly — Not a scratch
• Holly fern — Toast
• Indian hawthorn — Toast
• Italian cypress — Toast
• Ixora — Toast
• Japanese aucuba — Moderate
• Japanese cleyera — Moderate to toast
• Japanese cryptomeria — Toast
• Japanese pittosporum — Toast
• Juniper — Not a scratch
• Leyland cypress — Moderate
• Loropetalum — Toast
• Mahonia — Moderate to toast
• Nandina — Moderate
• Oleander — Toast
• Privet — Who the hell cares
• Rhododendron — Not a scratch
• Rosemary — Moderate to toast
• Sago palm — Toast
• Southern magnolia — Not a scratch
• Tea olive — Moderate to toast
• Windmill palm — Not a scratch
For information’s sake our climatic zone is 7B to 8A. Some areas in our hardiness zone may get colder and others warmer. We may also have microclimates in our yard (areas with different temperatures) which keep a plant warmer or colder. Some may disagree with Steve and realize some things had not become toast and others had. My good wishes to those of you who are still checking every day for signs of life. Regardless of what experts say, in the end it will be each gardener’s decision.
Regardless of the plunging cold, my garden is about as beautiful as ever. Yes, some plants looked pitiful. I try to give them their space to heal. Please share spring in my garden and remember there is always next year.
Sherry Blanton, “The Southern Gardener,” writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at email@example.com. Follow her on Facebook at Southern Gardener-Anniston Star.