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.

The Sylvan Lake Effect

 Rob called me at home early this morning with a weather alert.  A spectacular hoarfrost had built up at his house overnight; in minutes I was on my way.  As a result, I have a much better understanding of why people so prize lake living.  I have had lots of clients with lake properties.  They are an amazingly homogeneous group.  Nothing in the landscape must obstruct even a fraction of the view.  Every element in the landscape must be subordinate to, and in celebration of that view.  Some lake communities have specific ordinances that restrict any obstruction of the view.  Rob has no lake front, but he does have a beautiful lake view.  Lake properties are highly prized and expensive.  Today reminds me why that is.  This morning, the fog hovering over the water and the frost on the lake front trees-spectacular.  I am also seeing why a lake environment demands a very specialized design discussion.   

The temperature at 7 am-1 degree. The pin oak in his front yard was clothed in spicules of ice.  I know this sounds creepy, but it was incredibly beautiful.  The bark of the tree was even colder than the air, as it was loosing heat like crazy.  The warmer wet air around those branches condensed on every surface.  A large and lacy coating of ice was a first time in person hoarfrost weather event for me.  

Even the chain link fence was coated in frost. Chain link fence ordinarily reads dark in a landscape, much like a window screen.  Even though most screens are bright galvanized metal, they appear dark, and permit a view through. The pattern of this fence is graphically rendered in white-visually graphic, and new.  How rare to see the dark and delicate branches of trees thickly rendered in white. 

The lake effect-I have a picture.  This hedge of carpinus tells the story.  Those trees open to the lake are covered with frost.  Those trees sheltered by the house have none.  Anyone who designs formally in long runs has lots of issues to consider.  Do the soil, light, or exposure conditions exist equally start to finish?  Maybe not.  The patience to grow hedges level with the horizon, the skill to cultivate them for a uniform effect-a job for a committed gardener.  The variation I see here-I have seen it in countless other forms.  This hedge-challenged by nature.  I would expect to see a different pattern of growth based on the level of exposure to the lake. 

These lilacs in Rob’s yard screen him from his lake front neighbor.  I would be hard pressed to decide if these lilacs in bloom are better looking than this winter rendition.  As much as I dislike the winter, these branches coated with frost were incredibly beautiful.  Beyond the beauty, the wind and weather that comes off a lake can be very tough on plants.    

This horizontal and wild thatch of stems on an ornamental tree-enchanting.  Identifying the tree would add nothing to the discussion.  What would add?  In my zone 4-5, the winter appearance of the landscape is equally as important as the summer.  Bare branches and ice have their day-as they did today.  If this tree belonged to me, on this day, I would be delighted.

The old willows on Sylvan Lake were much more astonishing than this photograph suggests.  I am sure the stub ends of these giant branches were created in a strong storm. The thin branches were so coated in frost, they just about described the meaning of vertical.  The larger Sylvan Lake view this morning-I understand what it means to have a long and wide view of a natural phenomenon.  The lake effect-substantial.  From my kitchen window, I have an excellent winter urban view of M-59. I have a pair of dogwoods planted just outside these windows for good reason.   

Everywhere and anywhere the sun struck the willows, the frost melted.  These upper branches are yellow, and yellowing up more and more as spring approaches.  The lower branches, frost laden. As much weather as I have been exposed to, a view like this was a first.  

Almost every day of all of the years that I have been a gardener, and a landscape designer, I see something new.  I regularly experience something I neither planned for or anticipated.  How great is this?