Spring fever? It's late, too [Commentary]

The garden looks strangely brown

April 07, 2014|Susan Reimer

If it is really April, why does everything in the garden look so dead?

You are going to hear that a lot this month. Gardeners and non-gardeners alike, trapped by cold and snow for months, have rushed outdoors to find so much looking so brown.

It might not be dead, just burned, damaged by the terrible cold of this winter, the coldest in Baltimore in 30 years. Wait through May and even into June for signs of new growth before you give up on your garden. There may be life in there yet.

Winter burn is just one of the problems we gardeners will face during this late spring. There were almost 39 inches of snow this winter, compared with just eight inches last year, and all the salt used to treat the roads had to go somewhere. We are going to see salt damage in median and roadside plantings and in the landscaping around parking lots. Goodness knows what it will do to fresh water streams and their inhabitants.

March was the coldest since 1984, and we had more snow and freezing rain. The hellebores — they are called Lenten roses for a reason — were late, and so were the forsythia. The daffodils are just beginning to bloom now.

Winter weeds, like chickweed, are late, too. But a couple of warm days and they will explode in lawns and gardens. The good news is, those crab grass prevention applications will still work, even if you were used to putting in down in early March.

Our weather memories are short. We only seem to recall the same season last year. And spring and summer were early in 2013. The experts will tell you that we are about two weeks behind this year, but our memories make it feel like we are a month late.

Carrie Engel at Valley View Farms in Cockeysville says her customers are hard to hold back. "We have two back-to-back nice days and they want to know why we don't have tomato plants out," she said. "It is just human nature."

Cold weather crops like lettuce and spinach and cool-loving annuals like pansies will have to satisfy our urge to plant something, anything. It is much too early for geraniums and tomatoes.

The good news may be buried pretty deep this spring — ground water.

All that snow melted in place, sinking deep into our lawns and gardens. Maryland gardens have been so dry for so long, it will be a shock to the trees and shrubs that there is actually enough to drink. But that might also mean more pollen. Check with your sinuses in late May and early June.

What gardeners are really waiting to see is, did the cold temperatures kill off the pests and the stubborn diseases that have survived the recent batch of mild winters?

We already know the stink bugs were smart enough to hide out in rafters, garages and under the loose bark of dead trees. There is hope that the aphids didn't make it. But that would also mean their sworn enemy, ladybug beetles, didn't either.

Those nasty, gray patches in your grass? That's snow mold. We haven't seen that in a while. Spores of other diseases have been through tougher winters than this one. I am sure they are just fine.

The voles apparently used the snow cover to move around undetected, and Ms. Engel says her customers are reporting root damage. I hate voles. They make me wish I had 10 cats.

And my succulents and tropicals took a terrible hit — immediately after I bragged that they didn't mind Maryland cold. The pots cracked, too. But as a friend said, that means you get to buy new pots.

No garden is ever complete, and that's just the way we like it.

The real bottom line on this winter? There is so much gardening to do!

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Fridays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

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