Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
April, 2007
Regional Report

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Freezing temperatures destroyed young hosta growth, but new leaves should emerge soon.

Garden Survival

Many of the flower beds were cleaned, weeded, and mulched. Fruit trees were loaded with blooms, and all the plants were basking in the warm temperatures. Then the cold spell of 2007 was forecast. Frantically, I tried to second guess what would benefit from being covered up. Pots of all sizes, bed sheets, frost-protection fabric, cardboard boxes -- all were called into service. Of course, the wind blew and blew and blew. Pots, boxes, et al were put back into position. But the cold didn't just last for one night, it went on and on for over a week.

Now the task of uncovering and care begins. It's a humbling time for gardeners, when we realize how little control we have over the fates of our plants. Still, it is an opportunity to learn about plants and gardening. And we'll keep on learning throughout the upcoming summer and into next year, for the effects of the past several weeks hold the potential to be far-reaching. Some plants were totally unfazed, while others were outright killed. Others have suffered a setback that will take time and some tender-loving-care on our parts to rectify.

Making an Assessment
One of the difficulties in evaluating the effects of the cold weather this spring is that it's hard to draw any hard-and-fast conclusions. Microclimates played a major role, plus there were just some really odd flukes. For instance, a serviceberry bush in full bloom had all the flowers frosted from 6 feet down to 2 feet. Those 2 feet and lower are perfectly fine.

For the most part, plants that are native to my area seemed to survive the best, while those of Asian origin seem to be hurt the worst. The young, watery leaves of hostas look wretched, even those that were covered up, although covering did help. However, the Japanese variegated Solomon's seal is totally unfazed. Ferns, both native and not, were flattened. Even those sturdiest of garden plants, iris and daylilies, look a bit worse for wear. Fortunately, I had covered up most of the special daylilies, many of which were at least 10 to 12 inches tall when the freeze hit.

Most tree and shrub leaves that were still young and soft were killed. Fortunately, most woody plants have secondary leaf buds, so these will eventually emerge. Meanwhile, the plants are covered in drooping, browning foliage. There is only one set of flower buds on most, so for any of these that were destroyed, it means no flowers this year.

The Bottom Line
More attention than ever will need to be paid to the garden this year. A serious drought later could push a weakened plant over the brink. Feeding, watering, and mulching will be extremely important. Walks in the garden with a notepad will be critical. Following up with the appropriate care absolutely necessary.

The hardest part of all this for me to accept is the possible loss of fruit crops. Thank goodness I covered up the everbearing raspberry plants. I felt silly while doing it, but the new spring growth that was covered with frost-protection fabric looks perfectly fine. Those areas that were missed? There's nothing. It was impossible to cover the blackberries, so there's not much hope there.

My fingers are still crossed that all the blankets on the blooming blueberry plants paid off. And my special pear tree that already had bloomed and set fruit? So far, it looks like nature is helping me thin the crop, with some fruit blackened and others not. And thank goodness I hadn't planted the new crop of everbearing strawberries yet, so maybe, if nothing else, there will be strawberries to "put up" this summer and fall.

Plants are amazingly resilient, as are gardeners, with their indomitable spirit. Challenged, shaken, but never broken.

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