Monday, January 11, 2010

The Garden and the Freeze

In the Garden
By Catherine Dougherty

Most of the nation has been gripped by sustained dangerously dipping temperatures accompanied by winter storms. In spite of this, the knowledge that spring is approaching, that each day receives two more minutes of daylight, gives the house-bound gardener the will to survive this tiresome time. Rather than pacing and continually looking out the window like a teenager trapped in Latin class, this is precious time that may be used to plan a magnificent garden for the next season.
It is possible that this ice cover has damaged many of the bulbs which usually survive here quite nicely if left in the ground for the winter. The dependable yet tender Cannas and Elephant Ears will probably not survive as will the Caladiums.

In quickly touring the garden it may be noted the early spring bulbs have begun to emerge, their tiny green stalks peaking above the snow covered ground. It is always somewhat alarming to see such new and tender foliage appear while we have so much of winter left. Fortunately most bulbs have a natural internal antifreeze which keeps them from freezing and their foliage can survive sustained temperatures as low as 10 degrees for several weeks. Since most of the ations temperatures dipped too low for an extended period of time, the bed should be lightly covered with hay before further damage may occur. The hay is assurance the frozen bed will not thaw on the next warm day only to freeze again with more cold air. Meaning the mulch does not keep the cold out as much as it protects from a damaging and premature thaw followed by more freezing temperatures.

The cold is a natural boon for the Peonies for it is necessary for them have a hard freeze in order to assure profuse blooming in the spring. Without a freeze, they will have lovely foliage but few blooms. Left undisturbed for many years, the Peony will become established, expand, and bloom perfectly for decades. The older a clump of Peonies, the better they become. Martha Stewart recommended dividing them every few years, however she was mistaken. In gardening, as in all important endeavors, it is prudent to seek information from many sources and often the little old lady with the fifty year old garden has more knowledge than all the experts combined.
Spring bulbs can survive the cold nicely until the blooms begin to appear in the spring. Several years ago we had a hard freeze just as our lovely early Iris blooms were “in the boot”, which means they were small, just emerging, about to swell and open. The entire bed froze so completely that all of the immature blooms became soggy mush and dropped off. We had to wait several weeks for the later varieties to begin their show.

For this reason it is wise to plant bulbs and tubers which bloom in succession. Plant early, mid and late blooming Iris, Tulips, and Daffodils and you will be assured a lovely show of blossoms even if Old Man Winter refuses to leave town and nips the early varieties.

After the ice and snow of last week, we wandered outdoors Sunday evening in the bitter cold and it smelled like Spring! I have no idea whether it was the moisture or the newness of the year, however the aroma was unmistakable; it was clean.


  1. Great blog,Catherine. Very informative. The first two years after I planted my Peonies I couldn't figure out why they didn't bloom. Reading up on them and asking other gardeners, I finally realized that they were planted too deep. Once that was corrected, they have bloomed beautifully year after year.

  2. Catherine I hope the freeze damage was less than you imagined.I know what you mean about the smell of spring. It is unmistakable. I smelled it here about 2 weeks ago. With the smell came the reminder of how much work I still need to do to get the veggie beds ready for this year's plantings.