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.
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.
What will September bring? By most standards we have experienced a mild Summer. No drought and no extended periods of high temperatures. Gardens and lawns are very much appreciative and growth has continued uninterrupted. Asters, Helianthus, Jo Pye Weed, Crepe Myrtles and Toad Lilies – all blooming or coming into bloom as I write this. Proof that late Summer has plenty of color to offer gardeners. So far mother nature has cooperated by giving us timely rain. Remember though that plants can still use about an inch of water per week so don’t forget to water if the rains did not soak your neighborhood.
We are entering the window to work on our lawns here in late August. Depending on your lawns’ needs, that may be as simple as aeration and seeding or even a total restoration. If it’s the latter make sure to get your herbicide down now as the area being killed off will need a little recovery time before proceeding ahead with seeding.
I have a late season nesting of Wrens in a little ceramic house that hangs at the edge of my deck with the pond being just a few feet away. You can see the Wisteria that provides cover as the parents zoom in and out of their little house. It’s fun to watch and listen to them as they chatter away as the parents perform housecleaning and feeding chores. I don’t have any idea how many chicks there are but they are noisy when they are hungry. It sounds like a good healthy nest full. Here’s to successful fledging.
Well it’s been a heckuva season so far this year. First, Winter never seemed to want to let go, delaying the start to the Spring season by nearly 6 weeks. It seemed as if Spring bloomed all at once. Between early Spring pruning, the grass growing and planting annuals, it took us until the middle of July before we finished Spring cleanups. Without thinking too much about it, I’m sure that is some type of record. Since then we have had pretty good rains (certainly enough to keep us out of any drought) plus really up and down Summer weather. The few spurts of high temps combined with low humidity has made our weather very pleasurable this Summer.
As I thought, we saw plants die off for “no” reason well into July. The real reason being that many plants suffered root damage from the unusually cold weather. They had enough reserves to leaf out but then when it came time to support all the new growth, plants just didn’t have enough roots to support themselves. It’s rarely one thing that kills off an established plant. It’s usually a culmination of factors with one final blow delivered by the latest insult to their integrity. A suggestion to help plants get through Winter is a thorough watering as late in the season as can be managed. This will help any plants combat the effects of Winter cold and winds.
It’s also been a robust year for plant growth. Gardens have needed a lot of attention this year to contain all the new growth. We have been focused on pruning since completion of the Spring cleanups. It’s been a lot of work to hand prune as much as we do. I think though that our clients will tell you that the results are worth it.
Finally, it seems to be a bumper year for Crepe Myrtles. The bloom this year is fantastic!
I took my camera and revisited a property that the homeowner asked me to install deer fence 3 years ago to see the difference it has made. The change is pretty extraordinary. The garden has always been a woodland garden the homeowner really put a lot of work into improving while at the same time keeping the character of a native woodland garden. It had become a constant struggle though as the deer just devastated not only a lot of hard work but also the existing native understory plantings such as native Viburnums one would expect to see in a Maryland forest.
The transformation didn’t even take that long. Minus the presence of deer, it seemed as if plants that had cowered in fear for years just burst from the forest floor. Maple-leaved Viburnum (Viburnum acerfolium), Possumhaw (Viburnum nudum) and Beautyberry (Callicarpa sp.) immediately sprang up and made their presence known. Natives such as Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), (Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) have made a huge comeback even so much as carpeting the woodland floor here in the 3rd Spring since the barrier went up.
I observed an interesting comparison as the neighbors to either side have for the most part left their properties mostly natural but unfenced. It’s like the understory has been eliminated entirely and the woodland floor has limited diversity. Mostly Trout Lily (Erythronium sp.), a beautiful native but lacking any appeal to the deer, has thrived. This is also a plant that comes up in the Spring and then goes dormant as Summer heat starts to roll in. Its’ limited appearance at the time of year when there is a virtual smorgasbord of native and cultivated plants available has aided its’ survival.
It has just been recently that deer have become commonplace on my 3 acres. So far there has been enough woodland area to the North of me and, I guess, enough local landscaping that they are not a problem. Yet.
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.
Sometimes there aren’t enough words to describe something you are looking at and Fall color fits that category. It is much easier photographed than it is described as each Fall brings new and different color variations. Variations are determined by our weather during the Summer followed by how cool it gets at night in September. If we have drought conditions in late Summer, trees and plants in general are going to want to start their dormancy as early as late August. They will want to drop their leaves with as little fuss as possible including any spectacular color changes. Another major factor is cool nights as trees are starting to go dormant. This helps to set the brilliant colors everyone loves to see. We did pretty well this year as rainfall was decent with no significant dry periods. And then it cooled down significantly in September with some chilly nighttime temperatures. Colors this Fall have been very good.
Color is not only manifested in leaf color of trees. Hosta this year has been pretty spectacular with their brilliant yellow color. Berries have colored up very nicely as evident by the red berries on the American hollies growing in the field behind my home. A couple of reliable performers in the perennial world are the Trycirtis family and the Dendranthema (Hardy mum) family. Trycirtis or Toad lily has small orchid-like flowers that grace arching stems by the hundreds. They keep developing more and more interesting flower variations for this family. Very worth having in the garden and it will take shade also! I planted the hardy mum in my garden just a few years ago and already I have had to divide and remove 50% because of pretty aggressive growth. It will take over in the garden if left unchecked but the late season show is worth it. This photo was taken a full 4 weeks into its’ flowering period.
A lot more photos than usual this time but it was worth it. Enjoy!
Each season of each year brings something new to our weather table here in the Washington metropolitan area. One thing is for sure in our area, the weather is never the same. Sure we know it will be humid in the Summer but other than that who knows what a particular season will bring. The latter days of Summer this year were fairly cool and dry and then all the sudden it got pretty darn hot again which actually breathed new life into my tomato plants giving me some very delicious late season tomatoes! Nothing like a tomato sandwich in early October – that may have been a first for me using tomatoes from my garden.
Other things have also done well here at the end of the Summer especially some old standbyes such as Clematis paniculata. If you, or a neighbor, has this vine you know it comes up from seed readily throughout the garden. Sun or shade, it will perform. I like to let these seedlings grow in place and temporarily take over another plant or boulder or fence. In this case you can see it is growing over my Crimson Queen Weeping Japanese Maple. This is the second year I have allowed this Autumn Clematis seedling to grow over the Maple. I cut it back to about 12” high right after it finishes blooming to try and contain the seeds but most importantly to clear the Maple foliage so as not to adversely affect the plant. As long as I see no evident damage to the Maple I will allow this little seedling to continue. Another example is just to let the vine stretch out in the garden. It has such a beautiful carpet of deliciously fragrant flowers that it is well worth it to allow this vine to take over temporarily.
An unexpected late season performer this year was Hosta ‘Great Expectations’. In past years this guy was pretty crispy by the middle of September but here at the end of September this guy is still going strong. In this particular photo Hosta halcyon is in the background, which is generally one of the best performing Hostas in our area. The blue leaved Halcyon has the advantage though of waxy leaves which helps to fend off slugs and other leaf eaters. This particular area of my garden gets sun until late morning. Each year our area brings unexpected joy in our gardens – it just depends on the weather we have gotten.
As usual Summer is completely unpredictable here in the Baltimore Washington area. After that gray, gloomy June early July looked a lot more like Summer with 5 days of pretty hot weather but since then it has been a fairly cool Summer. We have even been treated to 2 stretches of spectacular low humidity weather. What does all this mean for our landscapes? In the long term – very little. We are getting decent amounts of rain so the water table is getting replenished. In the short term however we are going through our usual plethora of fungal diseases (lawns look terrible) that brings with them rotten annuals and tomatoes and, in overcrowded landscapes, lots of inner die back in plant material due to fungal induced rot.
As far as annuals go in this area, it is really a guessing game in the Spring each year as to what to plant. As everyone knows by now we really didn’t have the luxury of our old standby Impatiens this year due to the emergence of Downy mildew so everyone searched for suitable replacements. I think a lot of us found out New Guinea Impatiens, while not affected by Downy mildew, do not perform as well as their cousins in shade. Caladium will probably be seeing a lot more use as this is a reliable performer in shade. Petunias, for the most part, did poorly this year and my testing of them in deeper and deeper shade did not turn out well. Petunias will take some shade but basically need a lot of sun and dry weather to shine. I used Torenia in total shade (but lots of light) and it did well.
I do a little vegetable gardening at my home by incorporating tomatoes into a flower bed that gets 5 hours of sun each day. I bought 6 different plants this year of which only 2 were tomatoes I have grown in the past. They have not performed all that well and it’s hard to tell why. Is it our partly cloudy Summer? Does it have anything to do with the bee colony collapse that is going on around us? I can say for sure that partly cloudy has a lot to do with tomatoes as the plants do best when it is hot and dry between rains and the fruits need sun to set the sugar content of the tomato as it finishes its’ ripening process. The bee theory I will leave to the experts.
Now for what we are reaping due to our Summer weather. Crepe Myrtles are blooming like crazy. Growth in general has been off the charts. We are spending a lot of time pruning. Ferns and Hosta have both done well. Joe Pye Weed has long been a favorite and it has not disappointed this year. It is in full bloom and does an amazing job of attracting interesting insects such as Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. Dahlias should perform well here in late Summer as they just love cooler nights. I’ll report back on Dahlias though. Hydrangea was doing very well until the Japanese beetles showed up. Oh well it’s Summer.