It seems barely 10 days ago that the main attraction in my garden was the snow. After 10 days of 65 and 70 degree weather our spring is coming on strong. It is astonishing how quickly the plants are responding to the heat. The spring flowering annuals are putting on weight every day.
My magnolia stellata bloomed during that cold spell. I have had flowers for several weeks-this is a record. With day tiome temperatures in the 70’s, the flowers will drop. Spring flowering plants like spring weather. Spring flowering plants fade fast when the weather warms up too fast. The weather prediction is for warm weather for the next 30 days. And nights near 50. I am not sure I dare believe this prediction – spring weather in Michigan is known to be unpredictable. The transition from spring to summer is always rocky, in one way or another. I will reserve judgment for a few weeks, and concentrate on enjoying our spring while it lasts.
Buck’s horseradish plant is the most robust shade of green. He is delighted to see it growing so fast. I shudder to think how wide and tall this plant will be this summer. Some day it will need to be contained. But today, I marvel at its spring color and vigor. The garden is emerging from its long sleep.
The Passionale daffodils are the most beautiful they have ever been. An early cultivar of the so called pink daffodils, Passionale is a robust grower, and a heavy bloomer. I had enough flowers the past several weeks to cut a few bouquets.
The trees, the shrubs, the perennials and the bulbs are all speaking to spring at the same time. The warm weather is driving the spring at a very high speed. I suppose I have a traditional view of the seasons. Three months of winter, and then 3 months of spring. The sudden and very warm weather-will my garden go from winter to summer with but a few weeks of spring? Anything is possible, so despite a work schedule that is busy, I am trying to take the time to enjoy right now what we have of spring.
I have planted the garden around the pool with perennials four times in the past 11 years. Obviously, I have yet to figure out just the right perennial plant that will thrive here. The bare dirt was not for me. I planted the bed for spring. I am not ready for summer yet.
I see a few signs of spring. The crocus have come and gone. The magnolia Stellata is in full bloom, weeks behind its usual appearance. The grass is greening. The trees are budding out. A few forsythia are blooming, halfheartedly. Their flower buds hated the intense cold of this past winter. There are daffodils and pushkinia here and there. We have had a smattering of spring. Our night temperatures have been hovering around the freezing mark for weeks. Last week’s snow flurries on and off culminated in a brief but intense snow that actually stuck to the ground. Wow.
Night before last was 30 all night long. At 6 am the temperature dropped to 27. At 6:45, when I loaded the corgis in the car, I realized that my windshield would need scraping. The grass was glittery with ice. All of my early spring flowering plants were frowning. The chionodoxa were laying flat on the ground, stunned. The flowers at the top of my magnolia stellata looked like wet blobs of kleenex. The hellebore flowers were stooped over. The delphinium were caked with ice.The gravity of this late frost dragged everything down-including me.
This April has been anything but hospitable. Snow in April means we had snow every month for the past 6 months. Not so unusual. Snow this late in April is a little unusual. Years ago I kept a garden diary. It was not all that interesting-just a recording of what was blooming or happening when. It must have been in the early 8o’s – 6 inches of snow on April 16. It made me laugh – I wrote that in the diary. This gratuitous winter dusting the other day was insulting. It made me scowl.
I most certainly am ready for that incarnation of spring that has night temperatures well above freezing. Though I am perfectly comfortable outdoors on a afternoon that is 55 degrees, I would not be so happy spending the night outdoors at 30. My trees, shrubs and perennials have been in a deep sleep all winter. A few obnoxiously cold nights won’t deter them from their scheduled appearance.
Our tulips are well out of the ground. A 27 degree night did not faze them. They grow actively in a very cold part of the year. All of those plants that emerge in the early spring are programmed to not only survive, but they thrive in cold weather. The netting of ice of the leaves of the tulips gone over in the cold did not please me, but I was not worried. They are familiar with cold weather.
I was sure they would recover. What doesn’t bounce back? Any plants that you have bought recently that have been raised in a greenhouse need to put one toe in the water at a time in April. This is known as hardening off. A perennial that has been wintered outdoors in an unheated space is ready for whatever insult April has a mind to deliver. A perennial that has been heated, and brought on ahead of its normal time to emerge can be damaged by exposure to cold. They need to be exposed to the real world-one step at a time.
Greenhouse grown plants need some time to adjust to the real world. This process can be a bore to a gardener who is impatient for spring. Out in the day-but back in at night. We haul plants in and put them out dozens of times in the spring, before the season turns. Not interested in managing the transition? Don’t acquire plants too early. Plants already in the ground are very cagey about when they decide to make an appearance. They respond to daylight length, and temperatures. Once they are in active growth, close to freezing temperatures can damage the new shoots or flowers. Extended below freezing weather can damage flower and leaf shoots-every gardener in Michigan got a PhD in that science a few years ago. Your in ground plants are fine, given our very cold April.
These greenhouse pansies, even though they were covered, took a hit from the cold. They will recover. But they were not ready to be turned out into the cold. Any plant not used to the cold needs protection when the night temperatures dip. Or a lengthy hardening off. The daytime temperatures are not so critical. Watch the night temps. And the soil temps. This will make you a better gardener.
These violas were grown cold. They shrugged of the dusting of snow, and the 27 degrees overnight. If you plant in early spring in our zone, remember that April is not always a spring month. The plants you have in your garden that lived through our winter-they will be fine. Thinking to plant new plants in a garden or a container? Look for spring annuals and perennials that are grown cold. If you can’t tell-ask. Any plant nudged along with heat under glass will be vulnerable to variations in temperature. Baby them. That said, any cold friendly plants you put to the soil now will be spilling way over the edges of your spring in just a few weeks. I promise.
I have been planting spring containers for over a week now. Of course the earliest pots had the biggest restrictions as to what plant material will tolerate the chill. No one wants to haul their pots into the garage every night that the temperatures threaten to be below freezing. But every gardener is ready and willing to risk being out early. We have been stuck indoors too long. The pansies are incredibly cold tolerant, as are the kale and cabbages. Lettuce is fairly cold tolerant-but the leaves are very thin. They can suffer over a cold night. Parsley has thicker leaves-they shrug off the cold. Ranunculus do quite well outdoors in early spring, but their time is short. Love them while you can.
Trailing pansies are new to me. The Cool Wave series. I love the colors, and the lax habit of growth. They are great and graceful in urns. By mid June, these pansies will put on a lot of horizontal weight. This wispy look is fine for now, at a time when the garden is just beginning to wake up.
I will confess that I have a few trick up my sleeve for height in spring pots. I could plant 1 gallon pots of forsythia in spring pots, but a 1 gallon shrub takes up an enormous amount of space. Container space is at a premium. These pots got a spring look via some spiralled dry palm leaf stems and dry palm leaf flowers. Do I mind that these stems come from natural materials that are dry-no. The greater good is an expression of spring that delights the eye, and the heart.
Cut pussy willow stems are beautiful in spring pots. Though we get in loads of straight stems from our grower every spring, I value the home grown branched stems that have volume. This pot had alyssum and phlox intensia which is barely showing color. Another few weeks of warmer weather will mean growth. The plants we use in spring pots are cold tolerant, but it will take some warmth for them to grow.
Spring flowering bulbs are actively growing, despite the cold. We do pot up lots of bulbs in the fall, as they are programmed to thrive in the early part of our gardening year. The small flowering bulbs are blooming in the garden right now. Having a pot full at the front door is all the more fun. From the time the tulips break ground, until the flowers open is an experience of spring not to be missed. This tulip, Jaap Groot, is a pale yellow, with dark yellow feathers. The cream colored edges on the leaves are beautiful, are they not? This pot looks good already. The joy and pleasure of growing any plant is much more than the story of the flowers.
These centerpieces graced the winter pots for this client. I did not see a need to replace them for spring. They just needed a spring hug. I like when materials can be reused from one season to another.
This spring pot features a pair of German ivy baskets whose long trailers were tied up into the birch branches that filled this pot for the winter. It will take a few days for the leaves of the ivy to turn back towards the light.
Twigs, whether they be fresh cut or dry, add some welcome volume to a pot that is freshly planted for spring. There is no need for any pot to sit empty in early spring. Though our greenhouses are filling up with summer flowering annuals, I like to take the time to enjoy the season at hand.
Putting ones hands in the soil of a container again feels great. It’s the first place I garden in the spring. I like to wait until the in-ground garden shows itself before I wade in. There are plenty of good reasons to plant for spring.