32 Degrees At Night, And Holding

cold April day 2015 (2)I see a few signs of spring.  The crocus have come and gone.  The magnolia Stellata is in full bloom, weeks behind its usual appearance.  The grass is greening.  The trees are budding out. A few forsythia are blooming, halfheartedly. Their flower buds hated the intense cold of this past winter. There are daffodils and pushkinia here and there. We have had a smattering of spring. Our night temperatures have been hovering around the freezing mark for weeks. Last week’s snow flurries on and off culminated in a brief but intense snow that actually stuck to the ground. Wow.

cold April day 2015 (4)Night before last was 30 all night long.  At 6 am the temperature dropped to 27.  At 6:45, when I loaded the corgis in the car, I realized that my windshield would need scraping. The grass was glittery with ice. All of my early spring flowering plants were frowning.  The chionodoxa were laying flat on the ground, stunned.  The flowers at the top of my magnolia stellata looked like wet blobs of kleenex.  The hellebore flowers were stooped over. The delphinium were caked with ice.The gravity of this late frost dragged everything down-including me.

cold April day 2015 (6)This April has been anything but hospitable. Snow in April means we had snow every month for the past 6 months. Not so unusual. Snow this late in April is a little unusual.  Years ago I kept a garden diary. It was not all that interesting-just a recording of what was blooming or happening when.  It must have been in the early 8o’s –  6 inches of snow on April 16. It made me laugh – I wrote that in the diary. This gratuitous winter dusting the other day was insulting. It made me scowl.

cold April day 2015 (7)Milo had an intuitive grasp of the situation.  We don’t go to the rose garden in the winter. Nonetheless, there he was, trying to get me to  venture out. As if I wouldn’t notice the winter weather.

cold April day 2015 (8)I most certainly am ready for that incarnation of spring that has night temperatures well above freezing.  Though I am perfectly comfortable outdoors on a afternoon that is 55 degrees, I would not be so happy spending the night outdoors at 30.  My trees, shrubs and perennials have been in a deep sleep all winter. A few obnoxiously cold nights won’t deter them from their scheduled appearance.

cold April day 2015 (11)Our tulips are well out of the ground. A 27 degree night did not faze them.  They grow actively in a very cold part of the year. All of those plants that emerge in the early spring are programmed to not only survive, but they thrive in cold weather. The netting of ice of the leaves of the tulips gone over in the cold did not please me, but I was not worried.  They are familiar with cold weather.

cold April day 2015 (12)I was sure they would recover. What doesn’t bounce back?  Any plants that you have bought recently that have been raised in a greenhouse need to put one toe in the water at a time in April. This is known as hardening off.  A perennial that has been wintered outdoors in an unheated space is ready for whatever insult April has a mind to deliver.  A perennial that has been heated, and brought on ahead of its normal time to emerge can be damaged by exposure to cold.  They need to be exposed to the real world-one step at a time.

DSC_9692Greenhouse grown plants need some time to adjust to the real world.  This process can be a bore to a gardener who is impatient for spring. Out in the day-but back in at night. We haul plants in and put them out dozens of times in the spring, before the season turns. Not interested in managing the transition?  Don’t acquire plants too early.  Plants already in the ground are very cagey about when they decide to make an appearance.  They respond to daylight length, and temperatures. Once they are in active growth, close to freezing temperatures can damage the new shoots or flowers. Extended below freezing weather can damage flower and leaf shoots-every gardener in Michigan got a PhD in that science a few years ago.  Your in ground plants are fine, given our very cold April.

DSC_9727These greenhouse pansies, even though they were covered, took a hit from the cold. They will recover. But they were not ready to be turned out into the cold.  Any plant not used to the cold needs protection when the night temperatures dip.  Or a lengthy hardening off. The daytime temperatures are not so critical.  Watch the night temps.  And the soil temps.  This will make you a better gardener.

purple violasThese violas were grown cold.  They shrugged of the dusting of snow, and the 27 degrees overnight. If you plant in early spring in our zone, remember that April is not always a spring month. The plants you have in your garden that lived through our winter-they will be fine. Thinking to plant new plants in a garden or a container? Look for spring annuals and perennials that are grown cold. If you can’t tell-ask. Any plant nudged along with heat under glass will be vulnerable to variations in temperature.  Baby them. That said, any cold friendly plants you put to the soil now will be spilling way over the edges of your spring in just a few weeks. I promise.

Early Spring Planting

April 19, 2014 (2)Planting containers for early spring has its pleasures and its pitfalls.  The overriding concern is always the cold.  We planted containers for a client in downtown Detroit Thursday and Friday of last week-a dicey move, considering the overnight temperatures were very cold.  One night-22 degrees.  How to best avoid cold damage in early spring is to be sure you are using plants that have had the opportunity to become accustomed to, or the inclination to tolerate the cold.

April 19, 2014 (8)Very few plants thrive in cold weather.  That does not mean that they will not adapt and tolerate it.  This project was planted solely with plants that had been sown and grown to a good size last fall, prior to being wintered in a cold but not freezing house.  The pansies had had months to become accustomed to cooler conditions.  Placing them outdoors in cold April weather did not send them into shock.

April 19, 2014 (31)Gardeners who start their own vegetables from seed indoors know that those seedlings need to be hardened off before placement in the garden.  Hardening off is a process of exposing seedlings to the reality of seasonal weather, a little bit at a time.  A few hours a day in a shady place, then the day outdoors in the sun.  Then a planting in the garden.  Early vegetables that are sown directly in the garden do not experience transplant shock.  Pea seeds can be sown when the soil is workable, and the soil temperature is 45.  However, peas that that has been germinated or grown in a warm greenhouse will react poorly to a drastic change in environment.  Easy does it.

April 19, 2014 (22)The same would be true for spring flowering perennials.  Some growers  winter their plants in tunnel houses with no heat, so they are subject to the same cold conditions as perennials already planted in the garden.  Other growers pot up bare root perennials in early spring, and bring them on in a warm greenhouse. A hothouse grown perennial may react poorly to being put outside without a hardening off period.  Forced pots of hyacinths need some limited exposure  to the elements before they are placed in a spring container.

April 19, 2014 (27)Lime leaved heucheras do not have much tolerance for cold.  The leaves will bleach, and go limp.  However the heuchera Creme Brulee  seems to shrug off the cold.  I have had angelina survive the winter in a small pot I had forgotten to get in the ground.  But moved outdoors from a warm greenhouse to a cold garden will cause the needles to color up orange and red.  This not so spring like look results from the plant’s inability to absorb potassium from the soil, due to cold.  If your zonal geraniums have red tinged leaves, they are out in the garden too early.

April 19, 2014 (24)There are plenty of plants that can handle the transitional season known as spring.  And having good success with them becomes easier if the plants have been properly hardened off.  The hellebores we had in our greenhouse in March were kept at just below 50 degrees overnight.  Once the season moderated, we moved them outdoors on carts for the warmest part of the day.  When we moved them outdoors for good, we placed them underneath our benches, in the shade.  Even a sunny greenhouse is not near the light intensity of a full sun location outdoors.  Plants exposed to the sun too abruptly can be scorched by sun and wind.

April 19, 2014 (17)Any plant that is already outside at a nursery is good to go for a spring container.  Small spring flowering shrubs are great in containers, and provide some scale.  Twigs and dry or preserved materials can add some heft and presence.  Perennials that look good in spring containers include hens and chicks, lady’s mantle, brunnera, columbines, coral bells, angelina, lavender and hellebores.  Spring vegetables and herbs such as peas, lettuce, cabbages and kales, bok choy and chard, rosemary and parsley, look great in pots.  Pansies, violas, ivy, sweet peas, alyssum, and fuchsia can provide so much color and fragrance.  If in doubt, harden off.

April 19, 2014 (15)My summer pots usually go on long into the fall.  They have the opportunity to get accustomed to the coming of the cold over a long period of time.  Petunias, verbenas, million bells, creeping jenny will look great until frost, having been planted in late May.  If you want to plant them in the spring, give them some time to adjust to the outdoors before planting.  Some gardeners cover their spring plantings for a week or so with floating row cover.

April 19, 2014 (14)A quick introduction to weather that is too cold can set some plants back such that their growth is stunted.  Some never recover.  Much better to celebrate each season, in season.



Fall Pots

fall container planting

Yesterday’s post was much about construction details.  Any arrangement that is not solidly put together, or any planting that is not planted properly, will always have that hasty look.  I am a fan of any big and serious effort.  Lucio and Angie put these centerpieces together.  They have a gift for proportion.  Their construction is stellar.  The centerpieces are individual-as in made by hand.  But they closely match in height and width.     

fall planting

The centerpiece was just the beginning of these fall pots.  I like using cabbages and kales, as they represent the harvest season with great enthusiasm.  But the placement to create a harmonious overall look takes some doing.  Be advised that ornamental cabbages and kales can be set below or above soil level.  They don’t mind a rootball that is tilted out, such that the backside of their rootball  is out of the ground.  They are amiable and forgiving of your design.

These containers have their tallest element-the redbor kales-planted in the corners of the boxes.  This may be a counter intuitive placement, but a tall centerpiece asks for width at the bottom.  This plant placement is about balance, and proportion.  Our fall season may be short.  This means I like the fall pots to have a sumptuous look from the start.  The black eucalyptus and black plastic grasses at the corners-a dramatic detail.

Not all fall pots need to be so involved.  This ornamental kale set in a pot full of thyme celebrates color, texture, and form.  Both of these plants shrug off the fall cold.  I plant seasonal pots for my own pleasure.  Every season shines in its own way.  I like the idea of gardening all year round, in spite of the weather.    

Nothing looks more forlorn than pots or boxes at the front door, full of summer annuals that are fading.  Even worse, empty pots at the door.  Containers at the front door should always welcome family and friends.  Containers at the front door is a gift to the community that is a neighborhood. Plant these pots, year round.

Every fall Rob orders up fresh cut bittersweet stems from one of our suppliers.  Though I would not want to grow this plant in my own yard, those cut stems add graceful element to fall pots.  The cabbages and kales are rather stodgy-they benefit from the sparkly color and naturally curving forms of these cut vines.

Simple fall pots-charming.  Bleached stick stacks, white pansies, and variegated ivy go well together.  The addition of a bunch of lavender preserved eucalyptus adds an element of color that is welcome, and visually striking.

Big doorways ask for big pots.  Big pots ask for an equally big planting.  The street is fully 45 feet away from this front door.  A big planting makes an adequate statement from that distance.  The doorway has company from this generous fall planting that creates a frame.  Truly, a beautiful landscape frames a home, a property, a point of view. The landscape includes the pots.

The fall may be long.  Into December.  The fall may be short-I have seen the ground freeze solid in mid November.  I am not so good at predicting.  But I do know that I treasure every moment a season has to offer.  Should you plant some pots in celebration of the fall season-oh yes.