Opening Weekend for Gardeners

pansy
For instant spring, plant some pansies. Garden centers are full of them now.

Imagine if the hunter or fisherperson in your household was told that the opening weekend had been moved back two, maybe three weeks? Anxiety? Disappointment? Lots of pent-up energy? Yes, to all that, as we gardeners well know having endured one of the most protracted ends to winter that I can recall. But, this weekend is it! The weather promises to be pleasant and warm. So, here’s what I plan to do:

  • Clean up the gardens you can reach easily. You don’t want to be tramping around the yard too much (something I’ve been guilty of already this year). And you absolutely do not want to rake — let the soil firm up and dry out. But, if you can reach a bed from the sidewalk or other terra firma, clean up spent perennials and uncover any of those plants that want to grow.
  • Buy some pansies! If you think you have been anxious to get out in the garden, imagine how nursery and garden center owners feel. Many garden centers will be open for the first time this weekend. Visit them, enjoy the beautiful plants they have in their greenhouses and buy some pansies to pot up for instant spring.
  • Plant a little lettuce. I’ve started some lettuce indoors and those plants have been moved to pots and put on the front porch. But it should be warm enough now to  plant out lettuce or even start some from seed. Hold off on tomatoes or any warm weather crops.
  • Prune Annabelle hydrangeas and other plants that bloom on new growth. Hold off on pruning lilacs and other spring-flowering shrubs until after they bloom.
  • Build a raised bed. Easiest garden project ever. I’ve built several and have a new one in the garage ready to go out to the vegetable area in the next week or so. (If you want to get really fancy, check out my brother-in-law’s deck garden.) You can fill your bed with compost and soil to create a fabulous environment for vegetables. If you are not sure what to grow, check out Chiot’s Run’s 5-by-5 Challenge, which gives you suggestions and planting tips to grow a simple 5-by-5 foot vegetable garden.

What will you be doing this beautiful weekend?

 

First Bloom, More Snow

iris reticulata
This is the latest date I have ever recorded a first bloom.

A Facebook friend of mine wrote today that she is just plain numb when it comes to our weather here in Minnesota this spring. For my town, another 6 to 9 inches of snow is predicted for later today — yes, 6 to 9 inches on April 22! Last year, by this time, we had had several days in the 70s and 80s, whereas this year  we have not yet hit 60. If you live outside of the Upper Midwest, wrap your mind around that. According to the super-helpful Carleton College Weather Database, my hometown has not seen 60 degrees since Nov. 22, 2012 — five months!

But, no more complaining. We will endure. And, I have a bloom in my front yard. The Iris reticulata that is usually the first bulb to bloom in my front yard is up and blooming as of yesterday. April 21 is the latest I have ever recorded this first bloom. Last year, it happened on March 15! Here’s what I said then about past bloom times:

Last year, I first saw Iris reticulata in bloom on April 4; in 2010, I saw it on March 25; and in 2009, I recorded it blooming on April 16.

You can see how much variation there is in Minnesota, but having the earliest bloom time and latest in back to back years—and more than a month apart— is a bit disconcerting. The weather forecast calls for 60s and even 70s by the weekend, so I’m hoping that this will in fact be our last snowfall of the year.

Hail Bouquet

Lily and hydrangea in bowlDespite 12.5 inches of rain in the past week, I feel incredibly lucky. Seeing photos from Duluth, I’m reminded of the massive destructive power of water.  Here, lots of people have wet basements and some have ravaged gardens. Hail did a small amount of damage in my yard Monday night, ripping leaves, knocking down tree branches and kicking over the branches on a lovely hydrangea. Time to pick the flowers and make a hail bouquet. I hope your day is sunny!

Assessing the Damage

It's a little out of focus, but there is something on that bloom.

After three nights in the 20s, it looks like we are out of the chilly woods for at least a week or so. Much needed rain is in the forecast and the low temperatures are predicted to remain in the high 30s and low 40s.

It seemed a good time to assess whatever damage occurred. First the good news, most of the blossoms on my cherry tree appear (at least for now) to have survived. And, the really good news is several of these little pollinators were hard at work on the blossoms that were open.

Most of the perennials that have come up seemed to have survived the frost with few problems. Two exceptions: This newly planted ‘Autumn Frost’ hosta really should have been covered up better (my bad!) and the leaves are wilted over completely. The plant was only a couple of inches out of the ground, so I’m hoping it may come up again. Also, a hearty looking (as opposed to really hardy) lupine also is slumped over.

What kind of damage did you experience with the hard freezes?

Covering Up

Bring on the freeze!

My very unofficial thermometer read about 24 degrees F at 7 a.m. today, and there were definite signs of a freeze around the neighborhood. Last night, I covered up my little cherry tree out front in hopes of keeping it a bit warmer against the freeze.

I was surprised how big that tree has gotten! Even using two sheets sown together and an extra queen size sheet, I wasn’t able to cover the entire tree. I plan to leave the ghost covering on through Thursday morning when the freezing night-time temps are predicted to pass.

Big Changes for Minnesota in New Hardiness Zone Map

From USDA

A sliver of Minnesota is officially in USDA Zone 5, according to the new hardiness zone map released today by the USDA, the first update to the map since 1990. Beyond that corner of Jackson and Martin Counties going officially zone 5 (a place where the lowest winter temperatures don’t sink below -20 degrees F — like say, Chicago), a huge chunk of Minnesota is now rated zone 4b (lowest temp: -25) and the area around St. Cloud has shifted from borderline zone 3 to a firm zone 4a — break out the Japanese maples!

According to the USDA, the changes in zones are the result of several factors. Mapping techniques are much better than in 1990, allowing for finer distinctions. For the first time, cities with urban heat islands may show up a zone or half-zone warmer than in the past — though not the Twin Cities.  USDA also had access to more accurate data and more data because it has more weather stations checking in with information. This map also is based on 30 years of weather information (1976-2005) rather than the 12 years (1974-1986) used for the 1990 map. This smooths out the weather fluctuations plants experience and gives a more accurate picture of growing conditions, according to USDA. For instance, mountainous regions may now be rated colder because the new data takes altitude into account more accurately.

The fact that about half the U.S. is a half zone warmer than in the previous map certainly brings up the issue of climate change. The USDA takes a cautious approach, noting that this map may merely be more accurate than previous maps and that climate change shows itself over even longer stretches of time (50 to 100 years).

The USDA has a very informative website about the new map, which allows folks to input their zip code to get very detailed information.

Winter Weirdness

Salvia in January

I’m not sure which is more disconcerting–that I spent 15 minutes outside today wearing only a cardigan and was comfortable doing it, or that I found an unusual number of signs of life in the garden. Just a reminder: It’s Minnesota and it’s January.

Yet, today when I pulled aside some leaves I found this Salvia sending up several new shoots. In the backyard, the Clara Curtis daisies I ripped out in October had sent up new leaves — green ones. And, in the vegetable bed, a few sprigs of parsley were growing. Now all of these plants are decidedly in the hardy category. I have found parsley under snow in spring before, but still, there are far more green things in my yard than is usual for January (when things are usually covered in snow).

We’ll see what the rest of winter holds. But, so far, it’s just weird.