Last week, gardeners throughout Northeast Ohio — even very casual gardeners like me — woke up two days in a row cursing Mother Nature. Yeah, sure. The snow clinging to leaves, tree limbs and spring flowers (!) looked gorgeous, but what kind of damage has been wrought to our floral landscapes?
I remember about 15 years ago waking up to a May snow blanketing our front yard in Lakewood. We had a small peach tree in our front lawn that was our pride and joy. It was small next to our towering maple tree, but we loved it. Every summer, the tiny pink blooms turned into tiny yet delicious peaches. We would let neighbors pick them, because our harvest was so bountiful.
But that one year, the May snow killed each and every bloom on that beloved tree. No floral fragrance wafting up to our porch as we enjoyed spring nights. No sweet peaches. I was definitely annoyed at Mother Nature.
This year, those memories came back. No, we don’t have a peach tree anymore. We’ve moved to West Park and our yard is adorned with a baby, fragrant (OK, probably stinky in the future) pear tree. We have a giant azalea bush and an even bigger rhododendron right in front of our bay window. And I’m pretty sure all those lovely flower buds, so welcomed after a tough winter, are killed.
In our backyard, a lilac bush is full of dead flowers and I’m very worried about our formerly thriving grape vine, whose budding tentacles climbing up our small pergola look brown and sad.
Worst of all, I have a row of arborvitae planted last summer along our fence line. I dutifully went out each morning and shook off the snow making those beautiful green branches droop almost to the ground. I did the same after an ice storm sometime in the winter. Fingers crossed that they will bounce back.
So, being the dutiful former home and garden editor that I am, I googled for expert advice and hopefully solace on my snow-sad yard. My worries were somewhat alleviated, during my research, to learn that most trees and shrubs will recover from spring snow damage.
But it turns out I was right on another front: Spring-flowering trees and shrubs are at particular risk when temperatures fall and we get late snow. While a brief late freeze is not likely to cause long-term damage, the early leaves and blossoms will probably suffer damage. Say goodbye until next year to blossoms on hydrangeas, magnolia trees, azaleas and rhododendrons.
There’s even better news on the bulb-flower front. They have built in defenses to these spring freezes.
According to the site DavesGarden.com, “The main deciding factor in how much damage your flowering tree or shrub sustains will be how far along they were in the process of breaking dormancy. If the leaf buds were still quite small, and had just begun to unfurl, you should still be in good shape. Even if actual leaves had begun to sprout, they are just the initial budding. Once the weather warms again, your tree or shrub will put out another flush of leaves.”
That site offered the advice that to protect flowering trees next year, in the fall a thick layer of natural mulch (up to 4 inches deep, and starting an inch away from tree trunks) to help the ground maintain a constant temperature. “Do not fertilize or prune from late-summer on as this might stimulate new growth just as the plant should be storing carbohydrates and preparing for dormancy.”
Hydrangeas might benefit from a protective wrap of burlap, especially those that flower on old wood, or on both old and new wood. Place stakes around the outer edges of your hydrangea, and securely attach burlap to enclose the plant. Fill the open spaces with leaves or clean straw, to provide protection while still maintaining air exchange.
I LOVE this suggestion, by the way: Wrap shrubs in Christmas tree lights to provide a little extra heat when needed. I don’t need any more reason than that to keep my yard twinkling from November until summer.
As far as your droopy arborvitae, knock the snow off. Be careful and don’t knock ice off. It might damage the branches. Wait for it to melt. Do not tie or stake the branches back into place. That can weaken the limbs. Let nature do its thing. The branches will come back. If they don’t, you might consider looking to see if the branches are cracked and may need to be trimmed back.
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