April heat wave hit plants hard
Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
Talk about a cheat. The spring heat wave of a couple of weeks ago brought forth cheatery to the nth degree.
It was about that time that I was cautioning you to beware of spring night frosts that rear up every few years, taking few prisoners on their way to iced over new vegetation and flowers.
Almost as effective is excess heat when and where it is unwanted: April in your garden and mine to wit.
Most of the time when high or low temperature records are broken it is only by a degree or two. More than 125 years of accurate weather record keeping shows there is only a 1-in-125 chance of breaking a record and, furthermore, chances are small a record will be broken by several degrees.
So when we registered 93 degrees, it was notable that the old record of 88 was broken by five full degrees. In April, 93 degrees is nothing to sneeze at. No, wait, it is something to sneeze at when it causes a plethora of pollen exuded well in advance of when it should be.
Temperatures like that send spring into such a brief timetable that we almost miss its passing. We (and our plants) are thrown from cool spring immediately into cruel summer, with its debilitating effect.
Not only that, but the 93 degrees that day, and 90 the day after, were accompanied by strong southwest winds, right off the Texas heartland. This shredded and bleached new, tender leaves on everything from large trees (i.e. early-leafing tulip poplars) to emergent perennials which were, again, well ahead of schedule due to the heat.
Flowers, too, were adversely affected. Tulips, especially, took a licking. They are precarious to begin with and temporary for me. They are, in fact, expensive annuals, subject to all kinds of adverse weather as well as high temperatures. The hot wind dessicated their petals almost as soon as they opened, turning them to a crisp after only a few days of value.
Ditto azaleas. My favorite Azalea poukhanense, the Korean azalea, has orchid colored flowers two inches or more across with thin petals. It is about my earliest azalea and one I depend on for reliable performance, since it is never frozen out and is top hardy to 20 below 0.
Our Korean azaleas suffered from the heat and wind and some of the flowers were over and gone in a New York minute. Flower numbers were way below normal anyway, due to residual effects from last year’s drought, when buds failed to form. Coupled with the heat and wind, their performance was significantly stymied.
Though most daffodils and narcissus had a fine time of it this season, with cool but not freezing weather during their flowering time, late varieties suffered. Hawera is one of my favorite late narcissus, a pale cream color with several small flowers to a 10-inch stem. Hawera’s blooms were, toward the last, hammered by the heat and wind, but not before giving a couple of weeks of decent flowering.
Our rock wall border is rife with Hawera and kindred miniature yellow jonquil types. They set off the purple and mauve that so fills that border in early spring: ipheion, woodland phlox, columbine, pansies, grape hyacinths, Jacob’s ladder, et al, so their brief season was a disappointment. But it is better than a 25-degree wipeout.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Gardening: 20 percent inspiration, 20 percent perspiration, and 60 percent disappointment.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 4.26.11
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path