Oh my, what a week. What a terrible, awful, cruel week. I tried to cover my plants, but it was absolutely impossible to protect them all. I went outside with shears and cut as many bouquets of lilacs, tulips, quince and grape hyacinth as my arms would hold so we could at least enjoy them for a short spell.
After the frost had cleared, I stepped outside draped in a parka and took notes on some of my more common garden plants to find out what we should do, if there is hope, or if a little goodbye and a prayer is necessary.
Reed Dillon, owner of Reed Dillon and Associates Landscaping, answered some of my burning questions on this unsavory topic.
"I think that the only approach to any perennial is to wait three or four days to see the full extent of the damage," he says. "Once that is apparent, cut off all damaged parts. More than likely the plant will grow a new shoot or two."
¢ Early bloomers: "Early bloomers like bleeding hearts and phlox probably won't bloom this year," Reed says. "But I don't think they'll be killed. Plants such as hostas, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, yarrow and ferns should probably be OK. Again, just cut off the dead and wait for new growth. Summer-blooming perennials should bloom as normal, although they may bloom later."
¢ Roses: Dillon has inspected quite a few newly planted rose bushes and seems to think they will fare all right. Although the extent of the damage is not yet known, there is a good likelihood they will bounce back and resprout quickly. Established roses should definitely rebound.
¢ Ornamental trees: "The ornamental trees are really sad to me," Dillon says. "All the blossoms are dead and are quickly turning brown. These may hang on the tree for a while before dropping. Any native species should be fine. If the foliage dies back, it will leaf out again. However, introduced trees that aren't reliably cold hardy in this zone and that already leafed out might be killed."
¢ Tulips: Well, it seems quite evident to me that the tulips are goners; they really took the brunt of this frigid spell. If their foliage doesn't turn brown, then let them be. The bulbs use those leaves to store nutrients for next year's blossoms. If the foliage turns brown, you might as well pull the bulb out and start over in the autumn.
¢ asked Reed if the recent soaking rains would make any difference in how our plants recover. He said when temperatures dropped to 18 degrees, as they did last week, soil moisture didn't have much effect.
"At 28 degrees it does, but not when it gets significantly lower than that," he says. "The fact that we had pretty good levels of ground moisture may ensure that some trees whose tops die off might resprout from the base. That is when you get a multi-trunked tree to replace the old single trunk. If multiple trunks don't appeal to you, then select the strongest shoot after it reaches 2 feet and cut off the others."
So patience is our only recourse for the next week or two. Hopefully, many plants will be hardier than we originally thought and endure this bout of stress. While it is frustrating that there are no quick solutions, fortitude and gardening always have gone hand in hand.