Gardens can and do come back to life after a freeze

Time will tell if there is winter damage, so don’t get in too much of a hurry to pull plants out.

Winter is over, as far as I am concerned. I mowed my lawn this week for the first time this year — and, for me, that makes it official.

I am totally psyched to get back in the swing of things, especially since January and February were a total loss. The first half of February was too wet and the last half has been too cold. This week got us into the mid-40s, and it felt almost balmy, which is good for our plants and especially good for us gardeners. March is forecasted to be warmer and wet, but I can live with that after this cold spell we just had.

Speaking of cold spells, I would like to share some of my observations concerning the effects of the cold weather and what to expect as our gardens come back to life. As for my March to-do list, it’s pretty much everything that none of us got done in the first two months of the year. If you need to take another look at those lists, just search for my name at

I predicted in an earlier column that winter damage from the freezes would be minimal for most of us living in the lower elevations. That still seems to be the case.

Virtually all of my broadleaf evergreens, like fatsia, Aucuba, daphne, evergreen climbing hydrangeas, and even my tender Taiwanese schefflera and New Zealand Pseudopanax laetus, seem to be unscathed. There is no sign of leaf burn, and that is very reassuring.

Early-budding fruit trees like Japanese plums and pears are about to burst open with their bright white flowers, and I am not seeing any indication that the buds have been killed. This is not the case for the farmers on the east side that had temps a whole lot colder than us. I am hearing losses of 20 to 30 percent of buds, which is sad and will drive up the price of cherries, apricots, peaches and plums come summer. The jury is still out on my own Frost peach, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

The snow is all melted in my yard, and all of the hellebores and bulbs that were bent over while in full bloom have now returned to their “full and upright position,” as they say on airplanes. Moisture has returned to their stems, and they are as perky as ever. The same is true for those leaves on the rhodies that were all rolled up and bending downward. It’s almost as if they have woken up and are saying, “Look at me! I am alive and happy.”

Those of you in the higher elevations may have to wait another week or two to share in us lowlanders’ excitement — but it will come, just be patient.

As for my hydrangeas, most of the buds on one look fine and on another are all dead. The difference is that I left all the old flowers on the one that now has viable buds, and I was too anal last fall with the other and cut it back more than I should, which exposed the buds to the elements. I should have known better, but I guess I don’t always practice what I preach.

Only time will tell if there is other damage, so don’t get in too much of a hurry to pull stuff out. Do some clean up and see what unfolds, then pay a visit to the garden center for a quick pick-me-up.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville and can be reached at

Summer bulbs and dahlias

Attend two free classes at Sunnyside Nursery next weekend: One on summer-blooming bulbs at 10 a.m. March 10, followed by another class on dazzling dahlias at 11 a.m. March 11 at the Marsyville nursery, 3915 Sunnyside Blvd. For more information or to sign up, visit

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