Now is the time when gardeners in our area are starting to uncover plants with their crown above the soil surface. Today, at noon it is 33°F, with the real feel at 26°F, and it was a bit nippy. We had freezing rain overnight and that is not so good for any landscape. So far, little is in bloom in Western New York this windy, cold March. The images later in the post show the garden now. In another month, the garden will look like above and below.
In the garden, certain plants are quickly damaged by frost heave. In our area, lavender is highly susceptible as an example, and I have a tender variety that may have been lost. Gardeners are not yet ready to work the soil and should refrain from doing so.
It is always best to prepare before winter, yet mild winters with little snow cover get gardeners a bit too confident that spring will come sooner than expected. Even a few bulbs breaking ground get hopes up.
I prepare most years by not “preparing”. Nature just does its thing with falling leaves. In March, the ground is still frozen so not much can be done but to cover the roots as best one can with mulch or a good layer of compost.
Perennials in my garden are left to wither and die naturally in fall, with stems trapping falling leaves to keep plants warmer in winter. It is much harder for cleanup in spring for those early bloomers, but worth it for less plants heaving and allowing more tender plants to make it through winter. Leaves are the mulch along with some bark chips I acquire.
The alternate freeze/thaw creates pressure in the soil which lifts up plants, exposing the roots to freezing and drying. Plants that have not fully established a good root system are most vulnerable as are shallow rooted perennials.
I know garden bloggers always want to see those first blooms, like the crocus and snowdrops, but also want the early bloomers like the tulips or Forget-Me-Nots. Here all we have is Helleborus, snowdrops, crocus and hyacinth so far, but daffodils and myosotis are not far behind in my micro-climate beds. You can see how far along the myosotis is below next to the warming masonry, but frost and cold wind does tinge the earliest leaves in this raised bed.
In early spring, it is better to cover the crowns with extra mulch. Mulch helps greatly to keep roots from drying out. After the soil warms and is workable, then reset the plant. If you rework the plant too early, frozen stems and roots can be easily damaged. Sometimes the plants will settle back into the ground without help or you can lightly tamp them to firm up the soil around them and reset the plants for better soil contact.
If the plants are really pushed up, tent the plant with evergreen boughs and/or wood chips to keep roots moist, away from rodents and the plant free of wind damage. Don’t work the soil if it’s saturated at this time of year, likely, it is still frozen below. The fickle weather of early spring in the Northeast always has a late winter surprise, even in spring.
I often mention my garden has microclimates which enable flowers to bloom ahead of schedule in our area, in addition to having plants from a warmer climate zone weather our colder winters.
Microclimates can be both natural or manmade. A rocky outcrop that gets all day sun is nature’s way. I use a lot of stone or modular pavers in my garden to create microclimates. The boxwood also keeps this bed out of the strong winter winds as does the fence that surrounds the garden. Good garden soil, heavy in compost aides as well. The bed is in early summer bloom above too. Its best showing is in spring with the iris and Allium which transitions into a bed of lilies and gladioli.
Nothing stops the crocus and hyacinths. Even a few tarnished leaves and they keep on blooming even after our snow a few days ago. One sunny day and they are happy.
Stone absorbs heat, moderates the soil temperature, keeps the soil moist, and they provide shade for tender roots. They also help regulate and maintain a more even soil temperature in winter, lessening heaving. Plants will start coming up a month earlier in my garden beds that are surrounded by stone. Don’t underestimate the value of stone. Take a look in nature where there is an abundance of stone. I bet you see some early risers.
The fern below is planted next to the paved patio. It is one not likely to survive our winters, yet it did. It looks just like that now, minus the rabbit.
Happy, chilly Easter all.