Spring is both exciting and terrifying. Exciting because new life is emerging from the ground on a daily basis. Terrifying because Mother Nature can be brutal in the spring. In the Mid-Atlantic this year Mother Nature was particularly unkind. Just when certain plants were starting to shine, she delivered a cold snap. Not just a little threat of frost, but rather three solid days of sub-zero temperatures.
Since this sustained freeze was quite unusual, I spent some time evaluating the results. I noticed that plants responded differently to Mother Nature’s attack. Some surrendered. Some rallied. Others played it smart and stayed dormant.
Early blooming trees like magnolias and cherries gave up the fight, turning brown overnight. Instead of enjoying a prolonged bloom time, we were forced to embrace the present moment and the fleeting beauty of these flowering trees. Unprotected tropical plants were toast too, giving up the fight for good. In my garden the fern-leaf Corydalis turned black and never recovered – see you next year Corydalis.
My hellebores and daffodils collapsed under the cold, and I stressed over their future state since I have large stands of them. But miraculously, when the cold subsided, they perked back up and showed no evidence of any hardship. Plants in certain microclimates also fared pretty well. The Edgeworthia chrysantha in my garden continued to bloom for weeks after the cold snap since it was well protected by an evergreen hedge and positioned to absorb warmth from my brick home.
Many people wonder what they can do to help protect their plants if a cold blast is heading their way. For frost warnings it’s a good idea to put tender perennials or annuals in the garage or basement if available. For plants that might be pushing your hardiness zone or plants in containers that you haven’t put in the ground yet, consider a frost blanket, burlap or even a bedsheet. Nurseries often turn irrigation systems on just before a freeze to encourage a coating of ice on leaves. While this method might seem counterintuitive, a coating of ice (or snow) actually helps to insulate and protect a plant’s buds and emerging leaves.
Too often its impractical to protect all the precious plants in our gardens. We just have to ‘wait and see.’ This ‘wait and see’ mentality isn’t new to us. We plant in the fall and wait to see what happens in the spring. We install a new plant in our landscape and wait to see how it performs. We plant. We wait. We see. We repeat. We are gardeners. and we are a resilient bunch. Go ahead Mother Nature. Attack us. You won’t cause us to lose hope. There’s always the next season or tomorrow’s bloom.