Garden Clippings for May 25, 2019
“My ornamental grass is dead, should I dig it up?”
“My Butterfly Bush has no signs of life.”
“Half of my Japanese Maple is healthy, but the other half is still bare.”
Being in the nursery business sure has its rewards. Most gratifying is the springtime pleasure of watching Maple leaves uncurl, witnessing perfect Hostas sneak out of the ground in search of sunshine and enjoying the sweet fragrance of fresh cut grass.
Less gratifying is trying to come up with answers for clients who have stubborn plants.
Winter always takes its toll on certain plants, with no predictability. This past winter we had little snow, higher than average temperatures, and lots of water and ice. We had bitter cold for a week or two in January, while the balance of winter was warmer. Temperature fluctuations were more pronounced, something climate experts are telling us we can expect more of.
Snow is winter’s best insulator and the lack of snow causes soil’s surface to freeze harder and deeper, spelling trouble for tender plants such as Japanese Maples, Butterfly Bush, and Rhododendrons. Ditto for perennials such as Snow in Summer and Bugloss. Many fall planted perennials that have not had enough time to establish their roots suffered this past winter.
Japanese Maples are notorious for winter damage, mostly causing one section of the tree to dry up. I always find that pruning out the dried limbs makes Japanese Maples look much better. To prevent future damage to Japanese Maples, I recommend putting a layer of wood mulch, leaves or straw over the roots at Christmas time. Even a few scrap pieces of carpeting will give enough insulation for the root zone.
Butterfly Bush are beautiful plants producing delightful bottle brush style blooms in mid to late summer. Unfortunately, Butterfly Bush are no match for harsh winters. I have one on the south side of the house that is 20 years old, but I have another near the patio that I replace every 3 or 4 years.
Perennials, by and large, are tough as nails. Chrysanthemums and ornamental grasses transplanted after October will often decide to give up the ghost. Coral Bells when planted in clusters, will often loose the odd single plant through winter. Other perennials planted in late fall will sometimes heave themselves out of the ground after a deep freeze.
Save for a few ornamental grasses that are mild mannered, many grasses are aggressive with root systems that expand over time. But ornamental grasses hate cold soil and will often wait with signs of spring growth until as late as June. Be patient with ornamental grasses as they need warm weather to grow.
Pine trees are browner than usual, a sign of winter desiccation. Already in March, Pine trees, especially Austrian Pine, had needles that were noticeably tan coloured rather than the usual dark green. No doubt Pines will recover as by the end of May there are already new shoots appearing at the ends of the weary looking branches.