Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Brutal Winter, The Great Garden Extinction, Gardening on the Edge

Just too much brown yet for this time of year.   My PJM rhododendron still has a very brownish cast, although temperatures have been mild for a few days.  The blue dwarf leaf Artic willow is starting to think about budding up its leaf buds, but typically does not set the catkins which are its "bloom" as it is typically sterile.  This year, I can tell it is stressed as it have several sprays of catkins looking more like a pussy willow.  The vedict on the survival of the lavender 'Munstead' and the zauschneria (California fuchia or California hummingbird plant) is still out.  Even the 'Gold Coin' lysimachia looks hard hit. 

I am not sure what to think about this spring clean up in the garden.  I have spent a mere handful of hours in the garden cleaning the debris from both last fall and the winter.

The grass left longer than normal, as no mowing took place after my injury, particularly in the hellstrip ditch bordered by daylilies looks better than it ever has.  It was also covered by all the leaves blown or washed there as part of the villages highly evolved ditching efforts as the village sits on sort of a sandy boggy wetlands.  My house, one of the first built and therefore sited on a higher place, where I needn't worry about flooding still has an impressive ditch where leaves and debris can collect.

My neighbor, Dr. Darrel Apps, and I have been conferring on what we see dead in our yards.
He also has a lot of horticultural friends, many fairly "famous" (at least in horticultural circles), who are also telling of huge plant deaths in their own personal gardens.  Roses, azalea, lots of evergreens; his friend are reporting, as is he, dead, all dead.  Possibly 50 to 60 percent of all roses in the northern 2/3 of our country may have died this winter.  What plants are not dead, are suffering extreme dieback.

The yew here, taxas pyramidis, has some spotty die-back.  Still it is nothing compared to nearly all the other yews I have seen which have suffered and have died.  They are entirely that rusty brown.  Still unknown is the fate of the duetzia in the foreground.  I have not performed the cambrium scratch test.

Azalea 'Rosebud', supposedly one of the most hardy of the Grace azaleas, looking pretty dead.

View from the loft bedroom (i am able to climb stairs, yay!), but showing a lot of brown.

Very few trees have any sort of buds at all.  The cold went deep this year.  The soil was dry.  The root zones could have gotten a lot colder than we gardeners would like to think.  Root death is different from dieback.  It it the killing type.

Looking at area yards, this is what I am seeing dead in a big way, like yard to yard to yard with very few exceptions:

Yews (taxas) other than Hicksii or pyramidis
Aborvitae which were underhydrated (exceptions woodwardii and Smarsgard)

Alberta spruce

White pine, any which have not been given supplemental moisture

Do you notice a trend?  I know these are dead, because it is already fairly obvious with evergreens.  I can't yet say with any certainty anything about deciduous herbaceous plants.  No buds.

So what zone are we here in central Wisconsin.  The USDA upgraded us to 5b in 2012.  I asked Dr. Apps, "So what do we plant if are zone is changing?  If this is climate change, our natives won't do it either.  What do we replace to fill our holes.  Do we go zone 2?"  His reply, "It won't be our decision, the garden will decide."

I did a search through the plant finder on the Chicago Botanic Gardens website for zone two plants, very few pictures and the majority of plants were unfamiliar to me, scary thoughts indeed.

My mother called to mention one of our favorite private gardens which we like to drive past is looking particularly decimated this spring-- worth the drive to view the devastation of epic proportions, she reports.

Yesterday, I was tackling some pruning.  While pruning I noticed 50 percent of the branches of my dappled willow were dead.  Possibly 30 percent of the canes in my red twig dogwood are dead.  I am not sure my forsythia is alive, I keep waiting for it to start budding up to bloom, nothing.

I am not seeing sign of life on any of the roses.  Yesterday, I noticed the majority of my 'Beauty of Moscow' lilac appears to be alive, as does the majority of my aronia (a native black chokecherry).  I cut out the leader of my Seckle pear, in my effort to keep it yard size (even on dwarfing rootstock, pears can reach awesome heights); my pear is still alive.

My raspberry brambles look horrendous.  A lot dead there and in the blueberry thicket.  I am not yet up to all the thorns.

But what has me worried is truly so few buds, and the forecast for the very cool early summer.  This could turn out to have been the most brutal winter of our lifetimes.  Garden have been the collateral damage.


  1. I am just sick at your report here. Sick. We haven't even been able to think about cleaning up as the snow just has melted. I mean just. I really think the majority of the residual snow will go today.
    Anyway, I guess you will have to think of this year as an opportunity to change things up??

    My new little peony beds by the garden are literally sitting in a pool of water- dang!! I am hoping they are still frozen and not noticing their bath. Like you, we shall see. At least my daffs are making a run for it. One day at a time, my friend! :)

    1. I had a general thought of changing things up a bit as you suggest and also establishing cleaner lines and such. That the crocus in the back yard are so merry is exciting to say the least after this long winter. But I am just shocked still by the amount of brown, still, and particularly in the yards of non-gardeners, who are slow to remove and may never replace plants which die. It worries me when things like white pine, willow, and forsythia are taking such hits, to say nothing of exotica like Japanese peony or even PJM azalea and dogwood (which grows wild).

  2. When winter arrives, it's sad to see that gardens dry up and hibernate for a few months. It seems like they are depressed. The flowers refuse to grow, and talking to them doesn't help because, like humans, they want the warm sunshine and the rain that falls in the spring months. Winter is a good time to clear away the excess flowers and weeds from gardens, though.

    Kristina Cobb @ Dennys Lawn