The Bad News

DSC_9332Every warmer day, there are new signs of the damage sustained in the landscape from our once in better than a lifetime winter.  The news is discouraging.  Any gardener who has zone 5 or 6 plants in their landscape is feeling the side effects of a zone 3 or 4 winter. I do not know the cultivar of pine in this neighborhood garden, but I am quite sure these trees are bone dead.  I was a long ways away, but a close inspection was unnecessary.  That saturated orange brown color on every needle but for the very bottom branches-very bad news.

DSC_9403Our past winter was a once in 130 year event.  Record cold. Record snow. The ice on the Great Lakes-3 feet thick.  The ice on the Great Lakes are still 40% covered with ice.  Some say it will be well into June before all that ice melts.  Chilly is the prediction for our immediate future.   This specialty and marginally hardy spruce grew and prospered in this client’s garden, for going on thirty years.  This past winter proved too be too cold.  Just too cold.  No one could have foreseen a winter like this, nor could this spruce have been protected.  Unless you are older than 130 years, this is this first time you have seen a winter this fierce.

bamboo.jpgLike other stands of mature bamboo I have seen this spring, the culms and leaves are dead.  It is impossible to predict yet if the roots survived.  Time will tell.  We have had a very long period of mild winters.  That length of time was long enough to tempt gardeners to push the limits.  My magnolia stellata bloomed today.  The flowers are small, and look like wet kleenex.  Not that I am complaining.  I am shocked it is blooming at all.  Planting magnolias in a northern zone is a leap of faith.  A story about hope. Our winter was very rough, and every gardener in my zone is being educated daily about how that winter is intruding on our spring.

alberta-spruce.jpgI have not seen a single Alberta spruce untouched by the winter.  Every neighborhood I have visited has alberta spruce burned on the south side.  Some very exposed locations show burn all around.  Fierce burn.

winter-burn.jpgMany landscapes show damage which is hard to understand.  Some plants are untouched.  Others are burned all over.  Others are burned in specific spots.  Some have been killed outright.  Do I have a simple and swift explanation-not really.  Some species of plants that are marginally hardy in our area-many of these are in the killed outright list. Do I have zone 5 and 6 plants in my landscape-yes.  A once in 130 year winter cycle would not prevent any gardener from testing the limits.  The fact is, my 20 year old  garden is but a short intermission in the bigger scheme of things.  This spring is making me realize that nature bats both first and last.  There is no negotiating once a winter tests the limits of cold hardiness..  Too cold is simply too cold.  No zone 6 specialty conifer could not have fared well this past winter.  I have no easy and simple answers.

winter-damage-on-boxwood.jpgI love boxwood as much as the next gardener.  Every Green Velvet boxwood in my garden at home is unscathed by this past winter.  They are green and good to go.  This boxwood hedge in a neighborhood garden south of me did not fare so well.  The cause of the damage?  Salt spray generated by cars driving by at a brisk speed is a toxic bath that can damage boxwood.  Extremely low temperatures can test boxwood cultivars intended for warmer zones.  Exposed plantings of boxwood were bleached by sun reflected off of deep snow.  A boxwood that went into the winter dry can be severely damaged by cold winter winds. Evergreens need to be well watered in the fall.  They cannot absorb water from the roots once the ground freezes.  Water evaporates quickly from evergreen leaves given cold temperatures, wind and sun.  The damage on this hedge is hard to pinpoint. How that damage should be handled-it is too early to tell.

winter-burn-on-boxwood.jpgBoxwood is a broad leaved evergreen.  It needs to be well watered and juicy before winter.  Once the soil freezes, no boxwood can access the water it needs to keep the leaves juicy and green.  The water available at the root is turned off.  Strong winter winds makes the water in the leaves evaporate at an alarming rate.  An evergreen cannot replace the water it looses by evaporation over the winter.  What that leaf has to sustain it in November will have to do for the rest of the winter.  An evaporation rate that exceeds the store of moisture means leaves will dry out and die.

damaged-boxwood.jpgThe boxwood leaves on the interior of the shrub, protected from salt winter wind and sun scald may survive the toughest winter.  The damage I see on the boxwood at the shop makes me want to rush out there with my pruners. Notwithstanding my instinct to remove any sign of damage, I will wait.  Viable branches that have lost their leaves will releaf, given some time. Boxwood damaged by repeated soaking in road salt may not recover. Marginally hardy varieties of boxwood may be dead from the cold.  Hicks yews are not so wonderfully hardy.  Yews pruned after August show striking signs of damage.   I am inclined to wait and see how all of my plants will respond.  Plants have a will to live.  I would advise giving them the room they need to recover.

boxwood-damage.jpgA sick and challenged plant needs time to sort out the insult and injury on their own.  This is my opinion.  This spring following a once in a century winter-what do I know what will be?  I do know this section of boxwood has been struggling with fungus for 4 years.  An extraordinarily bad winter may have done them in.

winter-kill.jpgI have a plan to grieve privately about the damage to my beloved boxwood hedge, and wait.  I know I need to wait for the plants to respond.  Once they respond to warmer weather, I will know what to do.  It is not clear yet what is lost, and what is burned, and needs pruning.  Having never experienced a winter like this before, the last thing I want to do is interfere with the natural order of things.  If you are as passionate a gardener as I am, the waiting will be horticultural hell.  But all of us would go to hell and back for a garden, wouldn’t we?

Snow Day And Night

parrotia-in-January.jpgThe  pictures recovered from my iphone of the rose garden in June a few days ago were indeed a pleasant interlude.  However, the winter season is all over my garden.  Buck says we have 10-12 inches already on the ground, and our heaviest snowfall is yet to come.  Overnight, another 6 inches.  I have not one problem in the world with that.  Due to arrive shortly-zero and below temperatures.  I told Buck it was at least 20 years ago that I remember temperatures this cold.  Given an extremely low air temperature, I am glad that all of my plants have roots buried in the ground.  With the temperature set to drop to zero, I am further comforted by the insulation provided by all of this snow.

parrotia-in-winter.jpgWinter hardiness is an exact science, provided you factor in each and every one of the mitigating circumstances. OK, it is an inexact science. Plants reputedly hardy in my zone that are planted in poorly draining clay soil die out regularly.  Perennials and shrubs planted so late in the season that there is no time for any rooting to take place can be heaved out of the ground in a freeze/thaw/freeze period.  Marginally hardy plants placed in protected locations, and mulched for the winter stand a better chance of survival.

buried-stairs.jpgPlants have an extraordinary will to live.  They will suffer my careless planting and indifferent siting, my over watering, my thoughtless pruning and wrong headed culture without so much as a peep.  But once the insults reach a critical mass, a plant will die.  My garden starting slowing down this past August, and we have had fairly cold and snowy weather since November.  The garden couldn’t be more ready for the cold. I doubt that anything in my garden will be damaged by the brief but extreme cold to come. Dormant is dormant. The insulation that will result from all of this snow is a bonus.

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Heavy snow does not keep any plant warmer.  The snow is an insulator.  It protects against any response to a rapid change in conditions.  With mulching, or insulation from snow, a plant that is frozen will most likely stay frozen until the time is right to grow.  Our temperature today was 29 degrees.  It has dropped precipitously to 9 degrees.  It is forecast to drop again to zero on Tuesday.  Once a plant has gone dormant, it is the hope that the dormancy will be maintained.  Up and down, freeze and thaw-big changes are not good changes.  If I have a mind to mulch a tender perennial for the winter, I do not apply the mulch until the ground is frozen.  The mulch will help frozen ground stay that way.

snow-day.jpgI dress in lots of layers in weather like this.  A turtle neck, a fleece jacket, a down vest and a down coat keeps me comfortable outside in cold weather.  Warm air is trapped by all of the layers.  My sheepskin winter boots, warmed by the radiator, will stay warm for several hours outdoors-the sheepskin holds the heat.  I am not looking for my winter gear to warm me up.  I only ask that it help me maintain a comfortable temperature outdoors.

heavy-snow.jpgI have been in and out all day today with my camera.  A snowfall of this magnitude is not an every day garden event.  Piling on the clothes prior to a garden visit is an event the corgis notice.  They know something is about to happen.  I have had them outside on and off all day today.  Though they are not equipped to handle really deep snow, they have been game.  Milo plows, and Howard follows in his tracks.

yew-topiary.jpgAt 7pm it was snowing even harder.  The snow had gotten more powdery, and the wind was blowing it around.

winter-storm.jpgThe light strings in the pots were unfazed by all the snow.  All else was a deep blue gray.

winter-pots.jpg)My winter pots-pretty fazed.  This is a moment when I am glad that we take such trouble to insure that the winter arrangements are secure.  The centerpieces go deep into the soil in the pots.  As that soil is frozen solid, it would take a lot to dislodge them.  The eucalyptus is preserved, and will bend before it breaks.

Buck.jpgBuck is not a whatever the weather guy, but even he was intrigued.

winter-pot.jpgsnow clogged winter pot

snow-bound.jpgburied boxwood

Milo.jpgMilo, unfazed.

All Mixed Up

mixed-greens.jpg

Gardeners routinely mix plants and design elements up in the landscape.  They favor this soil mix over that one.  They mix all kinds of fertilizer from manure tea to fish emulsion.  Hybrid plants suggest a mix of that gene pool with another.  A mixer suggests a party attended by people from very different points of view.  This guarantees that a mixer will be lively and entertaining.  Mixed reviews on a film suggests there are ups and downs-will you take a chance, and go watch it for yourself?  A mix can suggest a special brew, an individual take on a theme.  A mix of perennials in a garden can help keep that garden interesting throughout the season.

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A mix of evergreen trees on the lot line is less formal, more natural, than a mass planting of a single species.  A mix of bird seed will attract more than one species of bird to your feeder.  The process of mixing up a scheme is a creative process.  Mixing colors results in a visual display that has depth.  Mixing a plant with big texture with another plant of a smaller texture can be striking. Adding another or an unexpected element to the mix-glorious.

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Oil and water do not mix without enormous effort.  A color mix from opposing sides of the color wheel can catch the eye.  Side by side color mixes are harmonious.  Certain mixes are bound to produce conflict.  Thus the art of a seating arrangement at a dinner party or wedding.  It is astonishing to think that every color imaginable comes from a mix of the three primary colors.  Primary colors mixed together may make for mud.  Colors mixed together in other proportions can produce colors of astonishing beauty.

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Mix a violin with a voice-revel in the result.  Mix a black eyed Susan with a liatris-glaring this.   Mix a Sum and Substance hosta with Russian sage-this is horticultural discord for all to see.  Creating a successful mix of anything is an art.   By this I mean that no college offers courses in how to mix one material with another.  Were I to follow a recipe for a cake to the letter, it still might look and taste bad.

winter-arrangement.jpg

For certain clients, we elect to fill their pots with mixed greens.  The airy and contrasting textures seem appropriate, for whatever reason.  A mix of evergreen boughs can produce lots of volume  But just like imagining a mix of greens in the landscape, mixing greens in a winter container takes great skill.  The mix involves cuttings from evergreen shrubs  that have very different growth habits.  How to make those cuttings work together to form a strong and cohesive statement-beyond me.  My landscape crews have a hand.  What do I mean by this?  They have so many years behind them-planting.  They have a feel for the natural shape of a bough, and they know how to work with it.  Even more amazing is their ability to make evergreens of all types work together in a container arrangement.

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No natural evergreen in the landscape has a mix of different types of branches, unless it is a grafted form from the Jean Iseli Nursery.  Each evergreen has an identity all its own.  Mixing the cut branches to harmonious effect, and a beautiful overall shape, is not so easy.

mixed-greens.jpgMost cut evergreens have a signature swoop.  White pine and incense have very flexible stems.  This means they can be flattened by a snow storm.  We either support the weak stemmed evergreens with a neighbor that has a stiff and stout habit, or we stick the branch so they curve up.  Gravity will have its say soon enough.  Fresh branches have plenty of spring, but as they dry, they will droop. If you are a fan of weeping branches, then perhaps this is the route to take.

window-box-for-winter.jpgIf your idea of celebratory is more along the lines of upswept, then stick arrange your branches so they all appear to curve up towards the sky.  Before I hang a mixed evergreen garland, I cut in in half, and rotate one side, and reattach it.  I hang the garland so the branches face up.  As the branches succumb to gravity, the garland looks full. Garlands hung with the branches down look skimpy .  Garlands hung with the branches facing up on one side, and facing down on the other will always look lopsided.

cut-evergreen-branches.jpgSticking greens both up and down can be a lively choice.  These pots are in a very protected location, meaning they will be shielded from bad winter weather. It takes a good eye and a better hand to spot how much liveliness is just enough, and not visually confusing and chaotic.  But do not be discouraged in any way.  It takes lots of practice to get good at anything.  I have no idea how many winter and holiday arrangements we have done in the past 20 years, but a lot is a reasonable number.

mixed-greens.jpg There’s plenty of satisfaction to be had from learning how to do.

 

At A Glance: Late Fall

fall-leaves.jpg
maples shedding

mid-November.jpgbleached maples leaves

maple-fall-color.jpgmaple leaves

Japanese-maple-in-the-fall.jpgJapanese maple in late November

gingko-and-hydrangea-in-the-fall.jpgGingko and hydrangea

parrotia.jpgparrotias

pear-tree-in-fall.jpgpear tree

pear-espalier.jpgpear espalier

Venus-dogwood-fall-color.jpgVenus dogwood

oak-tree.jpgold oak

snow-today.jpgsnow today