Spring surprises bring anguish, sorrow
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger
Spring surprises are mostly exciting and pleasant — that clump of late daffodils, for instance, that you had forgotten you planted last fall.
On the other hand, there are spring surprises that are disastrous and disappointing. This spring there is, unfortunately, a plethora of the latter kind.
It’s “The Freeze,” one year later. It was April 8 last year, 2007, Easter Sunday, that the Grim Reaper stole in on a black freeze and wrought havoc on everything from annuals and perennials to trees and shrubs. Then — need I remind you? — there followed the worst drought in recorded history that completed the reduction to rubble of much that had escaped the freeze.
All the damage wasn’t evident at the time, or even some months later. With autumn falling just post-freeze, natural de-leafing of deciduous shrubs and trees disguised a lot of damage that wasn’t obvious then.
Now, half a year later, there are those sad surprises easing out of the woodwork — literally.
I knew we had lost some 55 or more trees and shrubs in the freeze and drought, but lately more damage is coming to light. Among the hardest hit woodies were a number of double-file viburnums. We must have 15 or so scattered throughout our woodland, some 25 years old and almost that tall.
Many of them still hold brown, dead leaves, always a bad sign. Sure enough, they are dead to the ground. Some will sprout down low and recover, hopefully in time for me to see them bloom once again years from now.
There are dozens of smaller seedlings (birds start them) around and virtually all of them appear dead. These range from two to four feet in height and make excellent candidates for moving and gifting to friends —or would have, if they had not been killed. My move to populate a good part of county gardens with them will temporarily be suspended.
Crape myrtles took it on the chin, of course. Many were pruned hard after the freeze and semi-recovered in time to bloom late last summer. However, their growth habit has been severely compromised. Most large ones have stout trunks a few feet tall, then a thicket of smaller, secondary branches above that, making for an unsightly tree.
Some of those smaller branches can be thinned now. A lot of them — the majority — should be removed at their junction with the larger trunks. If the trunks are short — say, three feet or less — it is best to cut the thing at the ground line and let the plant start from scratch. It will grow at warp speed, with all those good roots underneath still intact, and reach perhaps 6 feet by fall.
Hydrangeas always present a pruning perplexity. Many of the soft wooded ones that are bad about freezing easily and bring bloom only in sporadic years should not be cut back now if there is green in the stems. They will bloom on last year’s wood — what there is of it — and then can be shaped after the bloom is past.
Hardwooded hydrangeas such as Peegee and Tardiva will bloom on new wood and can be cut back now if there is dead wood at the extremities, as well there may be if the plant is sited in a dry position. This will be drought, not freeze, damage. In any event, these kinds of hydrangeas are much more dependable and easier to grow than the soft kinds.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Pray for rain ... in August.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 4.15.08
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path