Who Can Take It?

Who can take it-this vile April weather? Mother Nature has been lavish with the bitter cold, snow, wind non-stop since last November. Today, we have significant icing on her cake. Everything outdoors is coated with it. 340,000 people in Michigan have no power. It is even too icy to walk out and take pictures.  I am not a good sport about being forced to stare out the window the middle of April. The relentlessness of it all makes me want to fall to the ground and black out. This may sound dramatic, as it should. Winter needs to high tail it out of here.

Buck has had enough of my ice storm company today, so he scraped a path from the back door to the steps-just far enough so I could take this picture. He decided a trip to the grocery store through the icy slush was better than watching me wring my hands. We will not be enjoying a spring evening here later. Ha! You would think that after as many springs as I have seen, I could muster a little patience and fortitude. Apparently not. I am a gardener, and I want to get out there. Don’t you?

There are many plants in the garden that are not particularly fazed by by leftover winter weather as much as I am. Snow drops are aptly named. From the BBC website, “Their leaves have specially hardened tips to help them break through frozen soil and their sap contains a form of antifreeze to prevent ice crystals forming. On very cold mornings, clumps will flop down as the water is ‘frozen’ inside the cells, but soon perk up again once temperatures rise and the sap can flow again.” Cold weather triggers the transformation of stored starch into sugar in the leaves of the snowdrops. Just like salt on a freezing roadway, the sugar in the water inside snowdrop cells lowers the temperature at which the water in those cells will freeze.  Water in plant cells that freezes rock solid destroys those cells. The snowdrop sugary antifreeze helps protect these early harbingers of spring. Snowdrops? They have a DNA that insures the survival of their species.  Freezing temperatures rarely bother the early spring bulbs, provided the freeze is of short duration. The DNA of early blooming spring bulbs meeting a delayed Michigan spring-show time.

The small spring flowering bulbs have another survival strategy. Many of them thrive in open to medium shade, as the ability to bloom and set seed before the leaves on the trees get to full size means makes for a more successful colony. These spring bulbs are also able to multiply via the production of offsets, which eventually grow into full sized bulbs. As a group, they seem to tolerate tolerate very chilly weather. Once in bloom, their worst enemy is weather that is too warm.

Spring flowering bulbs will send up leaf shoots early, if there is a spell of warm winter weather. If the weather cools back down, their foliage may or may not be damaged by frost. The foliage comes up first. At this stage, the flowers on these daffodils are still safely ensconced below ground. Once the season has shifted to spring, the flower buds will emerge.  Once the spring flowering bulbs are in bloom, cool nights are essential to the longevity of the flowers. They will fade fast in hot weather. In love with the idea of a spring garden? Consider spring flowering bulbs, and hope for cool, and not crazy, weather.

Hellebores are incredibly cold tolerant. I have seen flowering stalks laid flat by overnight temperatures in the low 20’s. Once the day warms up, they snap right back as if the insult had never happened. Extraordinary, this. It is fortunate that it is too icy for me to go and take a look at them. I would just be fretting over nothing. This plant shrugs off bad weather. The perennial hellebore is a mainstay of an early spring garden in Michigan. None of my hellebores are in bloom yet. But they will be.

My crocus had just come in to full bloom day before yesterday. The flower spikes emerged prior to our last snow. That late season squall did not seem to bother them a bit. The flowers stay closed in cloudy or stormy weather, and and open in sunny weather.  This is an adaptation that serves them well. Freezing rain pummeling an open crocus flower would turn it to mush.

My crocus are quite happy in a bed dominated by Baltic ivy. I never notice their foliage ripening. Crocus are beautiful grown in grass, but my grass is not fit for company this time of year. I like them much better in groundcover, or a perennial bed.

Pansies and violas are quite cold tolerant, provided they have had a chance to harden off with measured exposure to cold weather. All of ours are cold grown the previous fall, and wintered over in a greenhouse without heat. They are ready to go in the garden immediately. Like other spring blooming plants, they can tolerate very cold temperatures as long as those super cold temperatures don’t last too long. I have seen them bounce back from a 19 degree night. What they do not like is wind.  It makes sense that these big flat faced flowers would not fare well in a gale.

Detroit Garden Works is putting up a 30 foot wide by 60 foot long high gothic tunnel house this coming week. Hooray. At long last we won’t have to haul tender plants in and out of the garage. We have been covering our pansies at night for several weeks, with a double thickness of row cover, or frost cloth.  This very lightweight non woven fabric can keep the temperature underneath 5 to 8 degrees warmer than the air temperature. 5to 8 degrees can be a game changer. We zip tie bamboo stakes to our plant tables, stretch the cloth tight, and rubber band it to the tops of the stakes. We further zip tie the fabric at the bottom to the bottom rail of the table. That fabric can damage plants if it is able to inflate and deflate on a windy night. Every table looks like a neatly made bed. I am over making beds. I favor a house under which we can grow and sustain great plants.  Our tunnel house will be the perfect thing to protect our plants from all sorts of bad weather. A shade cloth over it will help to maintain a proper moisture level in the heat of the summer. Our grower Karen is happy about the house. Me too.

But sooner or later the weather will turn to spring. I am hoping it will be a long and temperate season. I cannot wait for all of the early season plants to arrive. The annual phlox, violas, angelina, and alyssum surround a rosemary in this spring container planting makes me long for better weather.

This picture of a trio of spring containers was taken a few years ago on May 31. Think of it. If spring lasts until the first of June, we have a lot of springtime ahead of us.



  1. lisa naro says

    First of all, Buck is a prince among princes!

    Second, your pansies are just magnificent and happy!

    Third, I live in southern NJ and yesterday it was 80 and I got sunburned weeding and raking my beds. Today it is low 40’s and torrential rains. My poor kitties won’t step outdoors. I feel your pain!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Lisa, that Buck is a prince! The pansies look pretty good this morning-considering what they have been subjected to. best. Deborah

  2. Alison Wilson says

    Dear Deborah:

    Notice the Hellebores pictured do not have any greens around them. I have removed the leaves in the last week or to so the flowers are more visible. What are your thoughts on cutting back all the foliage in the late autumn thus avoiding the unattractive early spring brown, flat appearance? Is there a protective factor in leaving the foliage through the winter?
    Many thanks,

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Alison, I do think the old leaves do provide protection to the plants. I always take mine off in the spring-or in this case, late in the winter. all the best, Deborah

  3. Michaele Anderson says

    I just sent this sentiment to a friend in South Dakota…
    “No winter lasts forever;
    No spring skips its turn.” Hal Borland

  4. As gardeners, we are not as well built for this cold, winter-like spring. Ice, snow, cold, wind, all combined has canceled our local Minuteman, Patriots day celebrations. This means day 2 of the same weather. My late 99 year old Uncle used to tell me this late season snow was poor man’s fertilizer and this makes me feel just a little better about the snow/rain mix. Last week, I put down lime on the lawns. Looking for positives, I can say the rain/snow is helping the lawn absorb the lime. As for my crocus, in full flower, they now look like mush after a day of light snow. Your new tunnel sounds like the perfect solution for protecting plants. It is a bit discouraging to see outside garden furniture coated in ice/snow! Especially when previous years we have been sitting in said chairs, enjoying mild sunny days.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Susan, this winter persisting is terrible. And living through it is miserable. blah! best, Deborah

  5. Joyce Baker says

    Well, you must admit that you guys expect to have this weather. Possibly not this late, but we in the South do not. I live in Huntsville, AL and tonight, the temperature is forecast for 36 with present wind chill of 31 degrees. No matter, I am tired of bringing plants in and out every day.

    Surely, “this too shall end.”

    Thanks for the acknowledging our all being gardeners in distress together.

  6. Joyce Baker says

    Correction: Surely, “this too shall pass.”

  7. Silvia Weber says

    Well this April weather sure does stink! Gale force winds with 2” of rain today, here in Lakewood, Ohio! However, our visit to Detroit Garden Works yesterday put us in a “garden high” mood- as always. Loved seeing the new and improved Shop, Suni- we love her, getting the last Milo autographed copy of ‘Midwest Living’ featuring DGW, finding more treasures, and of course, visiting with, and learning from the incomparable Deborah Silver.
    We’re good until Spring decides to show up!
    OXOXOX, Gerry and Silvia
    (Gerry unloaded the Owls, all by himself in the pouring rain, on to their pedestals!)

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Silvia, weather most foul-and it doesn’t appear to be much better this week. This winter has been interminable!! I am ready for some relief. So good to see you two! XXX Deborah

  8. mary garlough says

    What is your prediction for blooms on our hydrangeas this year? I’m thinking lush foliage with no lovely blooms, with the exception of my Annabelles. What do you think?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Mary, I have no idea what other hydrangeas you have. But a super cold winter can kill the buds on hydrangeas that set their flowers the previous year, as opposed to blooming on the current year’s growth best, Deborah

  9. Thank you, Deborah, for writing so eloquently about the frustrations that come with this blastedly tenacious winter. I have spent more time than I’d care to admit with my fanny hoisted up on my kitchen countertop, nose almost pressed against the window, just to gaze longingly at my dormant beds.

    Michaele, I’m grateful you shared the quote… “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn.” Just the hopeful words I needed to cope with this morning’s freezing rain here in Southern NH.

  10. Lisa at Greenbow says

    This spring weather is devastating to the soul. It is spitting snow here in SW Indiana. Unforgivable Mother Nature!

  11. Rebekah Warner says

    Dear Deborah,

    I recently discovered your blog and can’t tell you how much I love seeing an email in my inbox that you’ve added a new post. As your new neighbor in Waterford, it helps a ton to know someone else is going through this icy, snowy Spring pain with me! And of course, we will be celebrating greenery and flowers soon too. For today, I’m trying to focus on how lucky I am to have power as coworkers tell their stories of generators and space heaters. Thanks for sharing your passion and thoughts with all of us.

  12. Well….My mood was just starting to improve (wife has been calling me “grumpus gus”) when we got an actual honest to goodness BLIZZARD here in Minneapolis. 16 inches of snow, 50 MPH non stop wind for a day and a half!!! The week before the snow was almost gone, and I had been seeing signs of life around the property, especially my new sedum I planted late last fall. They made it. Now – ughhh. And more snow on the way I hear. I also have about 40 Coleus all around the house getting larger by the day. This will be a spring to remember.
    Grumpus Gus.

  13. Patty Yamin says

    Hi Deborah, It was great seeing you again! Thanks for coming over, of course we are taking your recommendations! Your shop looks wonderful, like being in a wonderful painting!
    Patty Yamin

  14. Hi Deborah,
    I feel your pain. Not much better here in NE Indiana. I normally plant spring pots with pansies, etc., but this year, I’m thinking ‘why bother’? We can plant summer pots (hopefully) in another month!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Alan, I am not going to give up the spring pots, as we are still 6 weeks ahead of being able to plant for summer. I do not want to give them up, either!~ best, Deborah

  15. Karen Heath says

    You are just a fountain of information. I too am restless from being stuck inside. I’ve had several good days in the garden. But they are separated by too many bad days. You have motivated me to plant some crocus this fall. It would be so nice to have some in bloom right now. I do have one question for you. Is there a type of rosemary that is hardy here in SE Michigan?

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Karen, I am not aware of any rosemary that is hardy here. all the best, Deborah

      • Karen Heath says

        I guess that explains why mine always dies! It teases me by lasting until March, so I wondered if I was doing something wrong.

  16. Dear Deborah,

    I used to sail with an incredibly tough Texas Navy Submariner who never let on about the weather. It could be the foulest, wet-to-the-bone cold, and he always summed up the day with: Well Mark that was not bad at all. I always demurred thinking he is trying to toughen me up. Nevertheless, I thank you for admitting that you are fed up with this weather.

    So am I.

    But that is perhaps what make Spring so sublime here. It is such a tease; I almost give up hope that it will ever show up and then am surprised to be wearing a rough coat in 70 degree weather.

    Best Regards,


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