Spring in Washington DC

March

                                                                                              

Woodpecker searching for larvae

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Can it really be the start of Spring? It just seems so odd that here we are in the first full week of March and it feels like Spring. This time last year we were still experiencing snow with measurable snow on both March 5th and March 20th. The last couple of years, Spring has been so late, it just doesn’t seem right. But I’ll take this early warm weather knowing full well it may be just a brief interlude in Winter. It is such a pleasure to drive in DC and to see the first Cherries blooming along Massachusetts Avenue with Witch Hazel, Hellebores and crocus. With all the breeding work being done the last few years, Hellebores are quite spectacular with their deep red and dark maroon shades.

 

Now a week later, after several days of way above average temperatures, Spring is really busting out all over. Forsythias, Cherries, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Star and Saucer Magnolias are all in bloom. The forecasted arrival of the Tidal Basin Cherries has even been pushed up by almost 2 weeks. We are in full spring mode here, working nearly every moment of daylight available to us. Even though it is not really practical, we try very hard to get ahead of emerging Spring perennials and bulbs, so that we can get mulch and fertilizer down. There is no real reason for this except that it is easier to work in garden beds without bulbs coming up everywhere.

 

Osprey leaving the nest during nesting season

Osprey cruising the mouth of the Chester River

It’s also so glorious to watch the return of native birds as they either flood back into the area from warmer climes such as the Osprey or just simply make themselves known by singing up a storm now that breeding and nesting season is here. Robins are so funny as they congregate in the shallows of my waterfall bathing and throwing water everywhere as they frolic. Spring is here.

Daffodils framed by PJM Rhododendron

Spring has really been procrastinating this year but I think we are done with Winter (and snow) until next Winter rolls back around. Spring may be late but I know it will be renewing to our gardens and spirits as it always is. It’s just such a great time of year as everything in nature just seems so brand new. In our area, and in nearly half the country, the simple delight of seeing the first hints of Spring come with the expansion of the leaf buds of our native red maple (Acer rubrum). It seems an oxymoron but it’s a pleasure to drive on the highway and have great clouds of red along the side of  the road indicating the our earliest Spring tree is getting ready to leaf out. As predicted, this Spring will be one of an explosion of colors more so than the normal succession as plants roll out their Spring finery.

 

I am also seeing an awful lot of Winter damage to a wide variety of plant material. Things like Yews which qualify as one of the cold-hardiest plants grown in our area have Winter burn. Another surprising plant with burn is the overused Leyland Cypress. Less surprising are things like Holly cultivars, Hydrangea and Sarcococca. It remains to be seen the effect the cold weather had on Crepe Myrtle as this is one of the latest plants to leaf out. I believe we will not see the total effect until mid-Summer when hot weather will deliver the coup-de-grace to plants barely hanging on after unseen damage to their root systems. I think back onto the importance of late Fall watering of newly planted plants and less hardy shrubs to give them a better chance at surviving a harsh Winter. A good thing I am observing here on my property (Zone 6) is a windbreak of Yoshino Cryptomeria which are about 9’ tall that I planted 3 years ago. They are in perfect condition with no dieback or burning! They even held their good green color throughout the Winter. Kudos to the breeder of a Cryptomeria which appears to be Winter hardy in our area.

Snowdrops - a reliable late Winter bloomer

Snowdrops – a reliable late Winter bloomer

Casa Blanc Lily peeking through the snow

Casa Blanc Lily peeking through the snow

 

We are all confused/upset/frustrated with the never ending Winter we seem to be stuck in. 8” of snow on St. Patrick’ Day? Yes it seems totally absurd but our weather so far to me, is just another example of typical Baltimore-Washington weather. In other words – anything goes. Remember last Spring? It was gorgeous the way Spring unfolded with cool temps well into May. Spring blooming times were extended and the colors were just gorgeous. But then again, it was the first time in my 37 professional years that we had a frost warning as late as May 24th. Where weather is concerned in our area, crazy is a good descriptive.

 

The cold temperatures we have been having for nearly 10 weeks will lead to a lot of disappointed gardeners who regularly push the envelope (like me) with marginally hardy plants. Most of these will perish along with pretty harsh damage to old standbys like Nellie Stevens Holly, Crepe Myrtle and Camellias. Hopefully most will be in the form of winter scorched leaves and not dieback.  Anyone remember the Winter of 1979 when it seemed as if all the Crepe Myrtles in the Washington, DC area died back to the ground?

 

There are some good things that come out of Winters like this one. Spring will be delayed (obviously) and when it comes it will be sudden and spectacular. We will most likely experience a compressed flowering season where plants that normally bloom in something resembling succession will probably overlap. It could be gloriously long or spectacularly short show of color depending on the weather when Spring does happen. The melting snow over the last 3 months really helps to replenish our water table and also acts as a protective layer of insulation for those marginally hardy plants. Remember snow on the ground is very close to the freezing mark while the air temps could be well below that. We take water for granted in our area but there are portions of this country that have very serious decisions to make concerning their water supply. Lastly for serious gardeners, a brutal Winter just provides us with more space in our gardens to try new things.

 

Happy gardening!

Casablanca Lily-8946It is such a sweet time of year as Oriental Lilies are blooming. The fragrance of Lilies such as ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Casablanca’ is exquisite. Easy to grow, Lilies are purchased as bulbs and planted in the Fall. Oriental Lilies generally grow tall and will stand up better with staking. Many different forms of stakes are available online and at your local garden center.  Foliage will start to appear in early Spring and right about mid-July is when both ‘Stargazer’ and ‘Casablanca’ blooms. Even with all of the rain (commented on in a previous post) the Lilies in my garden have done very well and now are just starting to bloom. Plant them anywhere they will receive at least 5 hours of sun but consider planting them where you can enjoy the fragrance such as near a patio or deck or in any bed that you pass regularly. Fragrance from Lilies such as ‘Stargazer’ is readily savored from as far away as ten feet. Even if you don’t enjoy the fragrance, Lilies show so well that they can be planted in beds that line the periphery of your property. They are spectacular even from a distance.