Shiny baubles to tempt the gardener

As plant catalogs clog the mailbox in mid winter, the gardener must be wary to resist temptation to foolishly purchase any shiny bauble that catches his eye. I suppose that resistance is greater when the gardener is entertained by hellebores, witch hazels, and winter jasmine flowering early in this mild winter, but on a chilly afternoon, with the garden under a melting, but still deep cover of snow, the gardener is anxious for spring that is still six weeks off.Octopus pineapple lily

Ordering just a few of the splendid new Pineapple lilies (Eucomis vandermerwei ‘Octopus’, above) and Red Hot pokers, a handful of Asiatic lilies (though I’m undecided on colors), and of course Cyclamen (to replace ones dug up by squirrels soon after they were planted a year ago) seems very conservative, and certainly is more restrained than a year ago when similar (or larger) purchases were made from five or six vendors. Purchases are facilitated by requiring only the pressing of a few buttons on a website, with address and credit card information magically appearing so that the years’ garden budget can be quickly spent with minimal effort.

Asiatic lilies

Certainly, I am more hesitant filling a cart in the garden center, though plants there are larger and actual flowers more seductive than only a photograph. But, mail order vendors understand the restlessness of winter, and it is all that I can manage to toss catalogs into the recycling without making a purchase.

Yes, there is a question of where all this will go once it arrives after the threat of hard freeze is past in mid April. A year ago, I could find no record of purchases made in January even a few weeks later, so I was delighted when one package after another arrived on the first warm spring afternoons. Somehow, a place was found for everything, though some locations are questionable and only after the first winter does the gardener discover the error of his ways.

Bishop of York dahlia

Bishop of York dahlia

Perhaps other gardeners are more reasoned than I, but I suspect not. When the garden is most desolate, the gardener is most easily seduced, imagining sunny yellow dahlia blooms framed by dark foliage, and never mind that he is unlikely to dig and store them properly in autumn. He must have another of the giant Elephant ear that was inadvertently left outdoors too long a year ago, with no consideration where it will be overwintered, which was the problem and why the other was lost.

Arborvitae fern is not a fern, but a spike moss. I'm anxious to try other spike and club mosses.

Arborvitae fern is not a fern, but a spike moss. I’m anxious to try other spike and club mosses.

For better or worse, the gardeners’ decisions are too rarely dictated by logic, and willpower is too often lacking. But, as this garden becomes more cluttered, the thought occurs that more consideration is required. I will cancel the Pineapple lily order and wait for spring deliveries to the garden center. This will save considerable expense, and it is likely that more planning will assure that all plants will have a proper place.

Ground orchid in late May

Ground orchid in late May

However, there is advantage in purchasing a few bare root plants in dormancy, which must be done early from specialty growers. I’ve recently become enamored with club and spike mosses (Arborvitae fern, Selaginella baunii), and I’ve had marvelous success planting dormant ground orchids (Bletilla, above). These will work splendidly beneath Japanese maples, and unquestionably are wise purchases. No doubt, if snow lingers much longer, other purchases will seem equally well reasoned.

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After the blizzard

I’m getting too old for this. When will it be spring?

But, it’s winter, and some amount of snow is expected, even, and perhaps particularly, in a mild winter. With less frigid temperatures there is often more moisture, and when cold collides with moist, deep snow is often the result.

The short branches of this Hinoki cypress will soon shed the heavy cover of snow. If there was nothing btter to do I would reemove this snow, but there are many other priorities.

The short branches of this Hinoki cypress will soon shed the heavy cover of snow. If there was nothing better to do I would remove this snow, but there are many other priorities.

Today, the driveway has been cleared with the assistance of a recently purchased electric snowblower, a concession to nagging shoulder and back troubles. This inexpensive gadget worked marvelously, far better than I expected when I woke to two feet of snow after clearing a much smaller amount the previous evening.

This Globosa blue spruce is not likely to harmed by the deep snow convering it.

This Globosa blue spruce is not likely to harmed by the deep snow covering it.

The driveway is closely bordered by plants, with a Japanese maple and several evergreens protruding a foot or two over the asphalt, so I opted to purchase a lower powered blower to minimize damage as snow is thrown from the machine. The smaller snowblower required a bit more effort than the neighbors’ gas powered snowblowers, but snow was tossed gently (and quietly) to the borders of the drive, so there should be no damage. And, I’m not dead tired from shoveling.

But, the spruce is on the path to the Japanese maple and to the bird feeder, so what the heck.

But, the spruce is on the path to the Japanese maple and to the bird feeder, so what the heck.

After lunch I’ll head back out to survey the garden. In the middle of the storm I slogged through waist deep drifts to take a quick look around, and I was encouraged to see that little snow accumulated in branches of deciduous trees. Branches of evergreens are bent by snow, but I’m not inclined to do much for taller hollies and cypresses that will spring back as soon as the sun melts the snow.

Nandinas, boxwoods, and smaller evergreens will require a bit of effort to free branches that arch down into the deep snow. It is likely that snow will not melt sufficiently to free branches for a week, and in previous winters I’ve seen that bent branches that are not freed from snow quickly are very slow to recover. Some stray branches must eventually be pruned so they do not obstruct paths.

It does not appear there has been any damage to this snow covered weeping Japanese maple.

It does not appear there has been any damage to this snow covered weeping Japanese maple.

Snow that accumulated in the dense canopy of the weeping Japanese maple by the driveway was cleared in the midst of the storm. A gentle pat with a leaf rake resulted in most of the snow drifting to the ground. With cold temperatures, branches are brittle, so a minimum of force should be used to lessen damage. Perhaps the maples can be left alone, but I’ve seen too much damage in previous years to leave this to chance. Another large weeping maple in the rear garden will be cleaned up this afternoon, but a third that is perched at the edge of the large koi pond will be left to fend for itself. It is much too close to the pond, with treacherous access in summer, much less in thirty inches of snow.

I gently nudged snow with a leaf rake and most snow fell through the branches.

I gently nudged snow with a leaf rake and most snow fell through the branches.

I do not worry about mounds of snow that fall from the roof. My roof is far too high to do anything about it, so I accept that some damage is inevitable, though boxwoods have proven to be surprisingly resilient in the past. Snow that falls from a roof can be quite difficult to remove without inflicting further damage, so I’ll not bother with these until the snow melts, and if I must prune broken branches, so be it.

Apparently, I’ve become soft hearted in my old age. Birds (and squirrels) devoured seed put out on Friday afternoon, and now I’ve shoveled a path to the feeder so it can be refilled. In minutes, there are bluejays and cardinals, with smaller birds cleaning up the scraps that fall from the feeder. This effort was worthwhile, but I hope to do no more shoveling this winter.

A significant snow on the way?

Note – The following post is reprinted with minor revisions from March 2013. Due to temperatures hovering just below freezing, the snow forecast for this weekend is expected to be wetter, and thus heavier. A wet snow tends to cling to branches, accumulating more quickly, and increasing the urgency in removing snow from vulnerable trees and shrubs. The most pertinent recommendations in this post have been highlighted.

If there are significant snow accumulations I will add updates through the weekend and link to older posts that addressed repairs to damaged trees and shrubs. I will also be available for questions and comments (as long as the electricity doesn’t cut out).

The rear garden under snow

Long before daylight this morning several inches of snow had fallen, and the worst of the storm is still to come. When I first went outside in the dark I was alerted to the problems ahead. Limbs of the wide spreading ‘Seriyu’ Japanese maple planted just off the corner of the garage were weighed down by snow accumulating in the dense branches to block half of the opening of the garage. As I looked across the garden the reflected light off the blanket of snow showed trouble in every direction.

Boxwoods and nandinas have been flattened by the heavy, wet snow, and crapemyrtle trunks fifteen feet tall are arched to nearly touch the ground. Unfortunately, I’ve seen this before. Now, with only four or five inches of snow there are problems. What will happen with another six, or eight, or ten inches still to come?Nandina berries peaking out from the snow

With colder temperatures and light, fluffy snow there is usually nothing to worry about. The wind blows, and the snow slowly drifts to the ground. But, wet snows accumulate quickly in evergreens and densely branched plants. Once the branches are bent the real danger is that they will break, and in winter storms several years ago my garden suffered substantially due to too little action, too late. Also, branches of trees and shrubs that remain bent will often loose their rigidity if allowed to remain too long, so that when the snow is gone the branches do not spring back. Many times these will require severe pruning or other actions to repair the damage.Snow covered Mahonia bealei blooms

Here’s how I plan to spend my day (after finishing this brief update).

Before the heavier snow causes more damage I’ll go outside, armed with a leaf rake. The process is not complicated from here. A gentle nudge with the rake is all that’s needed to dislodge most of the accumulated snow. Greater force can cause more damage, and most often it isn’t necessary. If winds pick up later in the day that might help to clear additional snow, but if the heavy snow that weighs the branches is allowed to remain the breezes could cause greater injury.

I’ll work on deciduous trees like the Japanese maples and crapemyrtles first, since these are most easily damaged. Japanese maples, in particular, are soft wooded with branching that is readily damaged by snow. Weeping varieties of Japanese maples are most vulnerable with a thick canopy of branches that collect the heavy snow. Extra care should be used in clearing the snow from these maples to avoid injury.

Once the branches are nudged with the rake the snow falls to the ground, and the branch usually springs back, though not all the way. This is rarely a concern when the branches have been bent for only a few hours, and I’ll worry about that another day since there’s little that can be done today. It’s not necessary to remove every bit of snow from branches, though the snow that remains will catch more of the wet snow that is predicted for later in the morning. My first snow clearing trip around the garden will probably be one of several today.Snow on blue atlas cedar

After the deciduous trees I’ll work on evergreens next, and follow that with smaller evergreen shrubs like the boxwoods and nandinas that have more flexible branches and often spring back quickly. Several years ago evergreen southern magnolias and Leyland cypresses were severely damaged in consecutive winters. A single tall cypress in my garden was bent to a severe angle and was removed. The southern magnolias have grown back remarkably, but now their form is much more wide spreading since the broken trunks resulted in more horizontal growth. I’m afraid that this will only encourage more snow to accumulate in the branches, so these will be the first evergreens to be checked.

I have a large garden, with dozens of Japanese maples and small trees scattered over the acre and a quarter property, so this task will require constant vigilance today. What happens if I ignore the snow, and see what happens? I’ve done that before, and in prior years when substantial snow falls overnight the damage is already done before I wake up.Snow on Colorado spruce

Most often I have a casual attitude about garden chores. If I don’t pull weeds, they’ll still be there tomorrow (though they might have dropped a few thousand seeds in the meanwhile). Many garden chores can be put off, but a delay in removing snow from branches can cause irreparable damage to plants. So, I’m wrapping up my writing, grabbing my leaf rake, and heading outside. Also, while I’ve been writing it’s become light enough to see that the pace of snowfall has increased. The breeze has picked up and large clumps of snow are falling out of the tall tulip poplars and maples that border the garden.

The process of removing snow from trees and shrubs should not be vigorous exercise, and certainly is nothing compared to the labor of shoveling the driveway and walk. But, take care not to over exert, and if you are working in an area with tall trees be aware that branches could come down at any time. Avoiding damage to the plants in the garden is a much lesser concern than your personal safety, so be careful.

It’s winter, after all

So far, so good. Certainly, a gardener should not cheer on the warming of the planet, but he can hardly be blamed for enjoying a period of mild temperatures after severe winters in recent years.

Nandina berries shine through the light snow

Nandina berries shine through the light snow

After a warm December, more typical winter weather has returned. Through the morning there was light snow as a cold front chased off our latest spell of mild temperatures. The small wet, flakes didn’t amount to anything, but now we can’t claim this as the winter without any snow at all. I will not be disappointed if this is it for the winter, though at least a bit more is inevitable.

I am only a little concerned that I have delayed in hiring a tree company to remove the dead hornbeam by the driveway. Surely, an ice storm will bring it crashing down, but it is slightly out of reach of falling into the house. The worst that should come of it is that it could fall to crush the tall, fragrant yellow flowered azaleas or the pink double flowered cherry with pendulous branches. But, if it falls I’ll be saved the expense of hiring to cut it down, and certainly I can cut the tree into pieces once it’s on the ground.

A seedling hellebore flowers despite chilly temperatures

A seedling hellebore flowers despite chilly temperatures

I read that area gardeners report damage to hellebores, witch hazels, and others that have flowered prematurely in December, but I see none of this in my garden. Temperatures reached nearly seventy degrees in late December, and a week later dropped to nine degrees overnight. All I can see is that the cold has slowed the progression of flowers, and this isn’t such a bad thing as many were fading too quickly.

The typically late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonia is not bothered by cold temperatures. It is likely to continue flowering into early March.

The typically late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonia is not bothered by cold temperatures. It is likely to continue flowering into early March.

I am content to remain indoors on this cold and breezy afternoon, but on milder days I am encouraged by the many winter blooms. I have not yet been motivated to begin cleaning up the bountiful crop of winter weeds that sprouted in our warm December, but I have spent many more hours in the garden, wandering joyfully between flowers.

The first snowdrop

The gardener rejoices with the first snowdrop (Galanthus spp., below) in January, and when foliage of daffodils first breaks through the soil. This is the hope for spring’s arrival, that winter’s end could be near.Snowdrops

Though expected, flowers of the Vernal witch hazel  (Hamamelis vernalis, below) and Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflora) are viewed joyfully, the gardener desperate for more color than the browns and grays of winter. The hybrid crosses of Japanese and Chinese witch hazels (Hamamelis x intermedia) typically flower in mid February, but buds are closely monitored for any glimpse of color two weeks earlier.Vernal witch hazel in January

In typical winter temperatures the paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, below) might show a bit of color alongside ‘Arnold Promise’ and ‘Jelena’, but in a colder winter there will be no blooms before early March. In recent years there were no flowers at all. All were frozen, with branch tips killed by a foot or more, reducing large, vigorous shrubs by half.Edgeworthia blooms in a late March snow

This progression, from a few scattered flowers to spring’s bouquet, is tortuous to the gardener who is anxious to be started planting. Though the hours of daylight become noticeably longer, the winter crawls along.Hellebore

But, not in this January,  when hellebores (Helleborus x hybridus, above) and witch hazels flowered in December, and foliage of daffodils and alliums stands a foot tall. The winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is in full bloom, and a spell of several mild days could bring the daphnes (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’, below) into bloom. Already, there are pink tips poking from the buds.Variegated winter daphne in late January

Fortunately, the early flowering magnolias, ‘Royal Star’ and ‘Dr. Merill’, show no signs of swelling buds. Their flowers are readily damaged in any March freeze, no matter how slight, and it is a certainty that there will be many nights below freezing in this winter, even if daytime temperatures remain mild.

Cold? No problem

Winter flowers continue to progress despite low teens and single digit temperatures this week. In most of three decades in this garden there have never been so many blooms in early January, so there was little to go by to predict how flowers would react to cold after an extremely warm December. I expected that the first cold after weeks of mild temperatures would be the most shocking, but it appears there has been no unanticipated damage.Camellia bud in January

I had no doubt when cold was forecast that flowers of camellias (above) would perish overnight, and they did. But, several fat buds show a peek of color, and these were not damaged in the cold. If milder temperatures return for several days there will be more flowers, but blooms are typically damaged in January before opening fully.Winter Sun mahonia in January

The early winter flowering mahonias (Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’, above) have faded from bloom, unrelated to cold temperatures, but somewhat sooner than in recent years due to the continued warmth through late December. With the unusual appearance of pollinating bees through the month it appears that flowers will be followed by small purple fruits, also unusual in this northwestern Virginia garden.Leatherleaf mahonia in January

The late winter flowering leatherleaf mahonias (Mahonia bealei, above) are continuing to progress into full bloom, showing no ill effect from the cold. I suspect low temperatures will slow flowering of the mahonias so that they are likely to hold their color into March.Hellebore in early January

Hellebores (above) began flowering in mid December, and with temperatures that turned warmer late in the month, some flowers began to fade more quickly than if they bloomed in late winter, which is more typical. The recent cold has had no effect on flowers, and buds of new flowers continue to open. As much as recent cold winters have been aggravating, this one is off to a splendid start.

Hellebores in early January

Flowers of many hellebores are nestled close to the crown, beneath large leathery leaves, and thus are best viewed once the evergreen foliage has been removed. Typically, organized gardeners will remove leaves in December, long before flower buds grow fat and the chore becomes somewhat more difficult.Hellebore

In this garden, if there was ever a year that this was accomplished before mid February, just before flowering, I don’t recall, and most likely I’ve never bothered until the last possible moment. Delaying this chore results in only a small amount of increased labor, but occasionally a flower or two are snipped off in the gardener’s haste.

One of dozens of hellebores flowering the garden in late December. The gold speckled foliage in the background is an aucuba, not an exotic form of hellebore.

In this so far very mild winter, flower buds of hellebores were prominent early in December, and as soon as a bit of color was observed, another week of warm temperatures pushed them into bloom. So, for once with good reason, no leaves have been sheared, and surprisingly, flowers on only a few hellebores are partially obscured.Hellebore

Many early flowering hellebores are hybrids with crosses from the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger), and breeders have selected plants with flowers that stand more erect than the nodding blooms of older varieties, and are more upward facing so that they stand above the leaves. In this garden, there are hybrids, and since hellebores cross pollinate promiscuously, there are dozens of seedlings with flowers colored from green to the darkest purple.Hellebore

In early January, only a few hellebores do not have flowers or prominent buds, and if continued mild temperatures do not damage leaves, this could be the odd year when foliage is not removed at all. Hellebore