May 19th, 2015
I was expecting the cherry laurels and nandinas to brown out from the cold winter wind.
I was expecting the crape myrtles to die back to the ground and the hydrangea flower buds to take another beating.
What I wasn’t expecting was for my 20-year-old ‘Prairifire’ crabapple to die in the front yard.
Crabapples are reliably hardy here, even in colder-than-usual winters. And this one was fully acclimated to the site and doing well enough that its blooming glory made the cut as the cover shot on my “Pennsylvania Getting Started Garden Guide.”
Now all I have is a skeleton of dead sticks, the book photo, and the memories of Mays past.
I’m far from alone in mopping up after another damaging winter.
From the reports I’m getting and the yards I’ve been seeing, our woody plants took varying degrees of hits.
By and large, perennials and groundcovers came through winter without incident, likely because of the insulating effect of the nearly winter-long snow cover.
But trees, shrubs and upright evergreens had no such protection, so the less winter-tough ones took the brunt of those many zero-degree nights and branch-numbing winds.
As you might guess, the borderline-hardy stuff generally took the worst beating.
All of my crape myrtles, for example, have nothing but brittle wood above ground. On the plus side, some are pushing new growth from the base, which means they’re alive but basically starting over.
Ditto for my hardy camellias, which weathered winters nicely for 15 years with only some minor leaf browning and windburned flower tips in some years. Then the winter before last killed everything except the trunks, and this past winter killed off last season’s twiggy growth that valiantly tried to resurrect the southern belles. I’m seeing just a few new green buds so far.
Broadleaf evergreens such as cherry laurel, nandina, leucothoe, boxwood, euonymus, sweetbox and even some hollies and azaleas came out of winter looking more like “everbrowns” in some yards. Ones out in the open fared worse than ones protected by house walls and courtyards.
While the broadleafs still might look pretty bad, most will recover. So long as just the leaves browned from the cold wind and the branches remain alive, the plants will slough off the brown foliage as new leaf buds push out and open.
I’m more surprised and less optimistic about some of the still-bare branches on species that usually don’t suffer much winter damage.
Two in particular are Japanese maples and cherries.