Winter casualties


A section of the stone wall that supports the lower end of the koi pond has collapsed, so its repair must be one of the first tasks undertaken once the snow melts and temperatures are more suitable for outdoor work. In recent years I noticed a slight lean to the wall, and now it has fallen. Hopefully, the entire wall must not be rebuilt, but in any case this sounds like a larger project than I suspect it will be.

There is little danger that the pond will collapse, though if the damaged wall was left for months that would be a possibility. I am quite good at taking care of emergencies such as this, but as we see with the wall that has been leaning for several years, I am not so good at taking preventative measures.

Edgeworthia blooms in a late March snow
Edgeworthia blooms in a late March snow

Fortunately, the fallen section of wall appears to be the worst of winter’s damage. If so, that will be a vast improvement over a year ago when two large magnolias were killed and many other shrubs suffered considerably. Paperbushes (Edgeworthia chrysantha, above) and crapemyrtles (Lagerstroemia) are still recovering from below freezing temperatures last winter, and even though the current winter has been nearly as severe (with a much colder February), there are signs that even marginally cold hardy shrubs will escape injury.

A year ago paperbushes lost all flower buds to the cold, and branches died back so that shrubs ten feet across were cut to less than three. By late spring they recovered enough that most damage was covered by new foliage, and in autumn new flower buds were set. In past years when temperatures approached zero there was a noticeable decline in viable buds, but in early March the flower buds appear to be in fine condition, even after multiple days with extreme cold.

In recent years with mild winter temperatures the paperbushes would begin to show some color by early February, or even late January a few years ago, but today the buds have hardly swelled at all. So, though there appears not to be any damage, there remains some concern that these will flower in the coming weeks.

Shooting Star gardenia (zone 7 hardiness) flowering in early July
Shooting Star gardenia (zone 7 hardiness) flowering in early July

A year ago, zone 6 (to -10 degree F.) cold hardy gardenias were killed by lows of five and six degrees below, with a few more days just below zero, and since this was by far the coldest winter in nearly three decades I had little hesitation in replanting gardenias in late summer. Again, all leaves have browned, and there appears little life in the stems, so this could prove to be the last attempt to grow these marvelous (when alive), fragrant flowering evergreens.

An older Pieris (Pieris japonica) is not faring well, though it began to look a bit iffy long before the worst of the winter’s cold so I suppose that something else has gotten into it. Typically, I expect that poor drainage is the culprit when I hear that someone’s pieris is struggling, but that is not the case. If a gardener hangs around long enough, there will be plenty of plants that die that he is not able to explain, and he is best off not fretting unnecessarily over these losses.

Pieris flowering in a late March snow
Pieris flowering in a late March snow

Besides witch hazels (which have been flowering for a few weeks), and hellebores and snowdrops (that are buried beneath the snow), Dr. Merrill and Royal Star magnolias are the most obvious signs of spring in this garden. With temperatures in recent weeks being the coldest of this winter, flower buds have swelled only slightly. With warmer weather forecast this should change quickly, and it would not be surprising to see buds beginning to break later in the week. I make no secret that I can hardly wait.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s