By Mel Bellar
This is absolutely my crazy busiest time of the year. I used to say that “I hate
!@#$^&* Spring” (I know that is sacrilege in these parts) because it is like being awakened from a nice long nap and being thrown into an ice-cold rushing river full of sharp rocks, and I don’t manage to catch a full breath until after Memorial Day. In my wizened (older) and more chilled state, after 15 years in the landscaping business, I am learning to go with the flow a little better. I know that I will get through it and maybe even enjoy it a little.
I think that this Spring has been particularly beautiful and worth savoring. I have especially loved watching the maples bloom. The red maples have that muted, rusty, red-orange bloom contrasting with the yellow-green of the sugar maples. The hills are so pastel with their soft colors and pillowy texture; I just want to lay in it and get back to my nap! This beauty seemed to go on forever this Spring, and then the catkins from the birch and aspen kick in followed by the blooming shablows (also known as serviceberry, Juneberry and who knows what else, Amelancier!) and black cherries. Even at the time of this writing (May 20), the leaves are still unfurling and have that fresh bright green that is so characteristic of Spring before it all becomes a darker more monochromatic green.
Bulbs are always a joy in the Spring, and I have planted a lot to put a little gloss on mud season, my wife’s least favorite time of the year. I love watching the progression of the snow drops, glory of the snow (Chionadoxa), bluebells (scilla), grape hyacinth (muscari), dwarf iris and, of course, the daffodils. However, we serious gardeners tend to scrutinize how many bulbs come back each year and fret over the density of the daffodil blooms. For instance, this year was a terrible Chionadoxa year, but the snowdrops and bluebells were great, and the daffs were uneven, some great areas and some sparse, hmmm. I don’t talk about crocus and tulips; they are beautiful, but I don’t plant them. All the critters love these bulbs and the plants’ flowers, if they ever get to see the light of day. They are just too much of a heartbreak for me, but I love it when others plant them. And currently it is a pleasure to see the alliums thrusting up with their stalks and plump buds ready to do their thing in June.
Spring is also nerve-wracking for us gardeners as we watch to see if our newly planted perennials from last year are going to survive their first winter. We stress about those zone 5 shrubs that bud out so late that we are sure that they won’t make it this time. I am still not sure if my Golden Spirit smoke bush is “coming back” and I have broken many twigs and branches on various “late bloomers” to see if they are still limber.
This Spring has been particularly horrifying for very real reasons. All over the northeast, we have a plethora of brown junipers, half dead rhododendron and a general demise amongst many things evergreen. The landscape design and horticulture community are all abuzz about this. Many perfectly healthy mature conifers, mostly junipers, look like they are dying, but there will be one right next to it that is fine. At the time of this writing, we are still holding out a slim hope that they will recover and put out new growth, but by the time you read this we will probably know that they are dead and will be in the process of mourning, and removing them. I think that most of the rhododendrons will recover but it is hard looking at the crispy curled-up leaves in the meantime.
We still don’t understand what happened to our evergreens with the random symptoms. Most think it was the very wet Fall and erratic and often extreme temperatures this Winter. I think it was the 50 degree days followed by the 20 below snaps. I am just hoping that it is not a new disease; our plant palette seems to continually shrink, particularly when it comes to evergreens.
If you do have evergreens that suffered a lot of browning and die-back, this is my advice (which I am trying to follow). You can cut out the dead branches as soon as you are sure they are dead; if the branches are brittle and break when you try to bend them, they are dead. If they still have a little life, you can wait until you see other parts of the plant (or a neighboring plant) starting to show new growth before cutting them. With most needled conifers, you have to cut back gently to get new growth as they will not regenerate on thicker woody parts. If your broadleaf evergreens have a lot of browning, you can cut those much harder as they will regenerate but you can also just live with the unsightly foliage until they recover and then pick if off.
Ah the joys of Spring and gardening.
Mel Bellar is the owner of Zone4
Landscapes and a passionate Andes