At Blomidon, You Have to Love April!
At Blomidon, You Have to Love April!
At Blomidon right now, as soon as you open up the doors and walk through the greenhouses, there’s that smell of soil, and there’s nothing better than that. It’s about 70–75 degrees in there on a sunny day, and as the temperature rises, you just want to move your office right in there.
This month, we’re going to talk a little bit about what kind of winter we had and how it affected our plants. It is all great to have warm winters like this past one, with a lot of moisture, but it saturates the ground, making it hard on the plants that don’t like extra wet around their crowns.
There’s hardly any frost in the ground, so every time you have precipitation, it adds more moisture to the soil. You end up with more moisture, on top of more moisture, and along with the up-and-down temperatures, the plants don’t know if it’s spring or if it’s winter.
On top of that, you had those 48 hours of deep freeze in February. We haven’t had temperatures like that in over one hundred years. So even though it was only 48 hours’ worth of extreme cold, our thinking is that it did quite a bit of damage. We tested by cutting off a couple of flower buds on our rhododendrons, and then we took a sharp razor blade and cut from the base of the bud to the tip. We cut it in half, and when it was opened up, the flower bud was all brown on the inside. That quick 48 hours that felt like it was two weeks was cold enough that probably close to 75% of the rhododendrons will not flower this year. There is little you can do about those buds. You just have to pinch off the brown buds so that the plant will take all of the energy that it was going to feed the flowers this spring and put that into new growth. You’ll have flower buds come late summer or early fall for next season’s flowers.
Due to that short time of extreme cold over the winter, not only rhododendrons but also your forsythias and magnolias may not bloom. There are quite a few plants that bloom early in the spring like your lilacs and all those things that set the buds in the fall for early bloomers in the spring. You may not have any flowers on your apricots, your pears, or your cherries either as they can also be quite tender. I don’t think it’s affected the apple crop, but only time will tell.
I don’t know if it was cold enough to kill off pests like aphids, mites, and thrips, which overwinter on outdoor plants on the stem. Usually, if you have a mild winter, you will have a really bad problem with aphids and mites the next year. Was 48 hours enough to kill off some of those populations? We’re not sure, and again, time will tell.
As soon as the snow is gone, if there are still any leaves or debris remaining underneath your plants, you need to rake those up. Put them in your composter or your green bin. You need to get rid of those leaves because a lot of diseases overwinter on those leaves. And if they are underneath your plant and then you have cold rains in April, those can splash on your plants and fungal diseases can spread onto those plants. Cleanup is really important! It’s not too late to put on dormant oil spray, which will help kill a lot of overwintering pests. When temperatures are above zero for 4 to 5 hours, and it’s not too windy, you can spray dormant oil!
Unfortunately, ornamental grasses hate winter wet. If there’s a lot of excess moisture and it’s sticking around the crown of some of your perennials, there’s a lot of them that will probably have rotted off or will rot off as they warm up. You might have to replace quite a few of your perennials depending on what kind of soil you have. If you have heavier soil, that’s more of a problem, but if you’re on the sandy side, moisture never stays, so it doesn’t matter how wet it gets. You probably won’t lose anything, and that’s one of the advantages of having sandy soil.
Those are some of the things that this winter might have done. Now, it’s not written in stone. We’re just saying these might be some of the things you’re going to be facing when the temperatures get warmer. In Nova Scotia, you’ve got pockets that we call “microclimates”—places that are warmer and more protected. They don’t seem to get the last frost, so you can push the boundaries on placing things that are just around the hardiness zone. It’s always fun to dabble in that kind of stuff and see how far you can push it. Again, if you have lighter soils, you have better chances of overwintering things than if you have heavier soils. I like to try different things and see if I can get them to overwinter. I have an edible fig that I dragged into my basement for probably the last 10 years, and I just got tired of dragging it, so it’s still over on the front lawn. We’ll see if it overwintered or not. Not the best winter to try that, but if it dies, I’ll just buy another one. I was getting 25 or 35 very tasty figs off it every year.
Our greenhouses are up and running and filling up with lots of baby plants. Hanging baskets are being built, and perennial houses are being filled as we get ready for a “busy season.” Our busiest time starts just before Mother’s Day, so we are fast approaching our deadlines to be ready! What a great time to make sure that you are ready too!