Trouble ahead

No doubt, trouble lurks in the weeks ahead. The very mild winter has hurried flowering along weeks early for many plants, and for most there’s little reason to be concerned if and when temperatures drop low into the twenties as they almost certainly will sometime and perhaps several times over the next month. Most early bloomers are built to tolerate cold, so no damage is expected, but there are exceptions.

Today, the camellias (Camellia japonica, above and below) are glorious, but overnight all could turn to brown mush if temperatures fall to the mid twenties (Fahrenheit). Never fear, more buds are swelling, so another round of flowers will quickly follow, and this goes on for the next several weeks until there are no more buds to open. Certainly, the threat of freeze will outlast the camellias, but this is a part of growing spring flowering types, and the few disappointments are hardly a bother. 

More susceptible to freeze are the early flowering magnolias. A handful will flower from the first week through the end of March, and all might suffer from the slightest freeze. If there’s a worry, in this garden the early blooming ‘Merrill’ (buds ready to open, below) and ‘Royal Star’ are frequently damaged, and always I hope for several days, and if I’m lucky a week of flowers before they’re ruined. While camellias might brown along the edges, it seems it’s all or nothing for the magnolias.

Particularly disappointing, damage to the later, yellow flowered ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Yellow Bird’ seems too regular, though both flower a few weeks into March when severe freezes become more unlikely. Prominently placed in the front  garden, the huge ‘Elizabeth’ makes a show, good or bad, and when it gets hit by cold it’s a sad sight.

But, it is only flowers that are damaged, and there’s nothing’s to be done about it. I don’t even consider covering anything, and if I did, a frost cloth gives only a few degrees of protection. Occasionally, all the magnolias will sail through, but more often, one of the other is damaged. With a long period of flowering through the month when winter transitions to spring, there’s rarely a year that camellias don’t suffer a time or two. So what. I wouldn’t be without.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Linus says:

    Some of the earlier blooming magnolias are quiet tempting, but, when magnolia flowers freeze, they turn in to dirty tissues… So I primarily have later blooming varieties.

    Speaking of which, is there a good table that summarizes the various magnolia cultivar blooming times? Is there an updated version of the tables from the following article?

    1. Dave says:

      I’m not aware of a list that gives flowering times. This list gives dates along the Gulf Coast, so it would be a guess for our area. Also, this list is missing Merrill, Royal Star, Daybreak, Yellow Bird, and Elizabeth from my garden, so compiling a comprehensive list of even the most common early flowering magnolias is a challenge. Throw in the more variable weather in recent years, and no early magnolia is safe.

  2. donpeters43 says:

    I find that Camillia that is light pink with red stripes to be especially appealing. What is its name?

    1. Dave says:

      It’s April Dawn. All the camellias were originally selected for cold hardiness since they were planted when winters were much colder. Younger plants often lost all flower buds in winter, but now they’re dependable bloomers.

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