Spring Frost

frost damage

There may have been little in the way of winter weather in my zone, and the 80 degree days we had in March were disturbingly unusual-but the winter weather we have had this spring has been devastating.  Every bloom on twelve magnolias in my yard-and lots of other yards- was summarily frosted off at the end of March.  OK, no flowers this year.  But a week ago Sunday-24 degrees overnight.  The new leaves pushing out past those dead blooms were hit hard.  You can tell from my picture, this Galaxy magnolia does not look good. 

The new growth on the boxwood at the shop-pushed out too early due to an abnormally warm March-was thoroughly damaged by frost.  24 degrees in midwinter-all of the evergreens have gone dormant, and are laying low.  They can shrug off this kind of cold.  Evergreens which have broken dormancy, and are actively growing, are vulnerable.  New growth is soft-as in very tender. A very hard freeze in April-devastating. That extremely cold night proved fatal to every new shoot on this boxwood.   

frost damage

Deciduous material suffered as well.  The leaves on these hops-too pale green, and burned brown.  This plant has cold burn.  I am seeing this damage everywhere-on maples that have leafed out.  Japanese maples planted in open areas have been partivcularly hard hit.  One grower I know feels he has lost a lot of trees.  Terrible, this.

The flowers on our espaliers dropped.  Those espaliers that had already shed flower petals will bear no fruit. Though these fruit trees have leafed out, any chance of fruit was frosted off.   I hear from friends in the gardening business of hostas 8 inches out of the ground, turned to mush.  This old rosemary, just a week out of storage, was hit hard.  The damage is everywhere-so discouraging.   The fruit tree growers in our state-devastating, the losses.    

Finally, the rain we needed so badly in April is falling in early May.  I do think the very dry conditions contributed to the frost damage.  A healthy and juicy plant is better able to fend off trouble than a stressed one.  Water stress-try working in the garden all day without a drink of water when it is hot as blazes.  Big stress.  I welcome the rain.  Rain drops on large foliaged plants is so beautiful.  These Chicago figs are loving the bath. 

Creme Brulee coral bells

Many perennials hold those rain drops.  This Creme Brulee heuchera is looking good. Though its leaves are struggling with the cold, the rain looks like good medicine. 

Water is life giving.  Miraculous, that.  No matter that I had to change my sopping wet socks twice today-I am grateful for the rain.  The difficulty I am having dealing with plants damaged by frost-soothed by the big rains. I am happy about the rain.   

This red lettuce is growing like crazy.  It is somewhat cold tolerant-the brutal frost passed it by.  The fresh leaves soaked with rain-do they not look delicious?  That gardening is not for the faint of heart is abundantly clear this spring.  The tulips bent over to ground encased in ice-this was painful to see.  The rain soaking my dry garden and landscape-a little respite from bad news.  Always, there are those good things, and those bad moments.

As delicate as a pansy bloom appears, pansy plants are very sturdy and cold tolerant. They duck down in inclement weather; they survive.  They are the mainstay of spring-along with the spring flowering trees, the early planted vegetables, and the wildflowers.  Not one pansy or viola sustained any frost damage at the shop.  They are the perfect plant for a season marked by tumult.   What to do about plants damaged by frost-wait.  Be patient. Make no moves before their time.  Many plants will releaf-many plants will handle the killing frost in their own way.  Don’t intervene until you really need to.  Survival is a primal instinct.  Like you, plants have the instinct to survive and prosper.   Give them space. 

 These yews had all of their new spring growth frosted off.  But I am seeing new shoots-they are re-leafing.  The spring rain helps fuel that.  Nature has a way of bringing any gardener up short.  But the will to live is a very strong one.  Should you garden, that natural force is more your friend than your foe.  Enjoy the rain.

Comments

  1. Sue Ellen says:

    Our temps did not drop as low as yours. We only went down to 31. There was more damage than I have ever seen because everything was so far ahead of “normal”. The iris had buds and so did the roses. The blooms were all so terrible looking. Roses shouldn’t bloom here until Mother’s day. Our boxwood looks like thoses in your photo, the japanese maples are brown at the top of their branches. But I didn’t lose any plants for which I am thankful.
    Sue Ellen
    Central Kentucky

  2. Deborah – I am afraid this is what has happened to my Venus dogwoods – on many, but not all – flower buds have fallen off and some leaves look brownish and somewhat deformed in the areas that remained green (does frost do that?). A couple of them don’t have leaves at all. At what point do you throw in the towel, admit defeat and buy a new one?

    • Deborah Silver says:

      Dear Laura, frost can do that, yes. Scratch the bark. If the branch is green just below the bark layer, they might re-leaf. If the branch snaps off, or if a twig is brown through and through-you’ve probably lost them.

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