Even with all the snow, your spring flowers should be OK

Columnist Steve Smith shares more on the effects the recent snowstorm will have on our gardens.

Last week’s column focused on the ramifications of the recent winter storm. I wrote about dealing with frozen roots on container plants, broken limbs on trees and shrubs, disfigured evergreens and frozen buds.

In retrospect, that all sounds very depressing, but please don’t despair — I am sure the worst is behind us. Here are a few more, hopefully uplifting, thoughts on what to look for in assessing the extent of winter damage in your garden.

After mentioning frozen buds last week, I decided to tour my Marysville neighborhood and see for myself what the situation is for spring flowers. I am happy to report that so far things are looking pretty good.

Pieris, or as it is commonly called, Japanese andromeda, is a tried-and-true broadleaf evergreen shrub that has been planted extensively in the Northwest for decades to anchor foundations and provide early spring color in our gardens. The lacy flower buds form in the fall and are present on the shrub all winter — therefore subject to the perils of Mother Nature. They will emerge and be in full bloom as early as late February, but usually it is early March.

As an added bonus, they are a good attractant for pollinators. Plant them near fruit trees and berries to help lure in the bees.

Over the years, breeders have done a marvelous job of developing new varieties that are more compact and have more intensely colored flowers. (Garden centers should have them available this time of year.) Alas, the take-home message here is that Pieris buds look healthy, as of this writing, and should be in full bloom by the end of the month. Yea!

Rhododendron buds are looking good, too. The way you tell is to squeeze them to see if they are firm and green in color. My neighbor’s 15-foot-tall “Cynthia” rhodie is always a good litmus test for me, and it is a happy camper right now. Early blooming rhodies, like the PJM series and “Christmas Cheer,” also have viable buds — but that doesn’t mean that a nasty frost during bloom won’t turn them brown and ruin their performance. That is always a risk with early-blooming shrubs and perennials.

Much to my amazement, my winter daphne is doing just fine, despite being almost in full bloom when all this snow and subfreezing weather happened. Plants have the uncanny ability to modify their internal fluids so they don’t freeze and spill their guts. That’s a good thing for us in the Northwest, where our winters are so unpredictable.

Lastly, the fate of my hellebores, snow drops and budded narcissus (that I mentioned two weeks ago) has finally been revealed. The snow drops look like they were never buried, but the daffodils and hellebores — while still blooming perfectly — have comically twisted stems, as if they’re a bit tipsy. One can only wonder what was really going on under all that snow for weeks on end. From the looks of the new mole mounds in my lawn, I would say it must have been one heck of a party.

So overall, I am predicting that this spring will not be a disaster but rather a typical year where everything unfolds as usual or, at the most, a few weeks behind schedule. That in itself is amazing considering how far ahead of schedule we were back in January.

Such is the variability of a Northwest winter.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at info@sunnysidenursery.net.

Free gardening classes

Attend up to four free classes next weekend at Sunnyside Nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd., Marysville. One class about the conifer kingdom is 10 a.m. March 2, another about roses is scheduled for noon March 2, a class on new flowers in 2019 is 11 a.m. March 3 and the roses class repeats at 1 p.m. March 3.

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