A spell of cold

After a delightful series of warm days, this upcoming period of cold is maddening. However, it is not unusual, and it is fairly common for a spell of cold to arrive in April just as the leaves of Japanese maples unfurl. This is when the leaves are most fragile, and tender foliage might be undamaged at twenty eight degrees, or blackened at twenty six. Often, injury from the cold is not immediately evident, but after a day or two the gardener is distraught that the beautiful crimson leaves of the lovely ‘Tamukeyama’ have shriveled and turned to black. More than a few times I’ve rejoiced that a freeze has passed with no injury, only to discover a day or two later that the leaves of the dwarf ‘Shaina’ are hanging limp.Bloodgood Japanese maple in early spring

The gardener is aware that the maple will revive to some degree, but that it often requires another year for the tree to fully recover. Here, it is evident that there is some advantage in planting more than one variety of Japanese maple, since different maples will leaf over a period of weeks, and in a freeze it is fortunate that some foliage has not even begun to emerge. Of twenty three maple cultivars (or is it twenty four, or five?) in the garden, perhaps half are in various states that are susceptible to cold damage. Understandably, not every garden has the space or budget for so many trees, and in any case the best the gardener can do is to hope and pray that temperatures remain a degree or two warmer.Fernleaf Japanese maple - new leaves and flowers

Certainly, a few energetic gardeners take matters into their own hands to wrap trees in cloth to protect them through these few stray cold nights. But, this is a considerable task, and with tender foliage and brittle stems there is often more damage from the wrapping than the temperatures that turned out to be not as cold as expected. This is my plan. Leave well enough alone, and hope. Usually, this works.Emerging leaves and flower of Golden Full Moon maple

Few other plants suffer to any great extent from a sudden spell of cold. The flowers of magnolias are notoriously susceptible to cold damage, and perhaps cherries might suffer, but besides fruiting trees there is no long term harm that comes from injury to blooms. One day the flowers are lovely, the next they are blackened, and two days later they have fallen and vivid green leaves are emerging. Most trees and shrubs, and many perennials that begin emerging in April are well adapted to varying temperatures. Only extreme cold is a threat, but after recent eighty degree days much foliage is at its most vulnerable.Elizabeth magnolia in late March

Still, I will not be out this evening wrapping trees and draping blankets over the hostas. This garden has survived this and worse, and if I wake tomorrow to regret my inaction, be certain that I’ll whine that the weather has conspired to make my life so miserable, but tomorrow will be a better day.


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