Green Thumb Tip #17: Give Them Time

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We are just finishing a harsh winter, and find ourselves in the midst of a chilly, slow spring.  Most of our woodies and perennials are a little behind the times in showing new growth, according to our experience with them in recent years.  Understandable!

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The Camellias didn’t do well in our cold, windy winter weather.

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We had a few nights in January when the lows dipped a little below 0 degrees F, which is rare here.  We had winter temperatures more like Zone 6, found several hundred miles to the west.  Our woodies and perennials rated for Zones 7 or 8 suffered from the deep, prolonged cold.  And it shows.

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Normally evergreen shrubs, now show extensive leaf damage, with brown and curling leaves.  Bark on some trunks and branches split and some stand now with bare branches.   Those woody shrubs that can easily withstand winter in Zones 6a or colder generally look OK.  But those that normally grow to our south, that we coddle along here in the edge or warmer climates, took a hit.

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I needed to cut back far more dead wood from our roses than any year in memory.  It is a very sad sight to see established shrubs looking so bad here in the second week of April.  Our cool temperatures through March and early April, with a little snow recently, have slowed the whole process of new spring growth, too.

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Some gardeners may be struggling with a decision about whether to replace these badly damaged plants.  Now that the garden centers are finally allowing deliveries of fresh stock, it is certainly tempting to rip out the shabby and re-plant with a vigorous plant covered in fresh growth.

I will counsel patience, which is the advice I am also giving to myself this week!  We invest in woodies and perennials mainly because they are able to survive harsh winters.  While leaves and some branches may be lost, there is still life in the wood and in the roots.

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I was out doing the ‘scratch test’ on a completely bare lilac shrub this morning.  Its condition is still a troubling mystery to us, as several other lilacs, of the same cultivar, are leafing out and are covered in budding flowers.  But this one, on the end of the row, sits completely bare without a swelling bud to be seen.  I scratched a little with my fingernail one of the major branches, and found green just below its thin bark.  So long as there is green, there is life.

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This lilac survived our winter in a pot near the kitchen door. We are delighted to see it in bloom so early. I’ll plant this shrub out in the garden once the blooms are finished. It has been in this pot for several years, after arriving as a bare root twig in the mail in early 2015.

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I want to prune this one back pretty severely, mostly because it is becoming an eyesore.  But my Master Gardener friend strongly advises to give it more time.  She suggests waiting until early June to make life and death decisions on trees and shrubs, to give them time to recover.

I may prune the lilac a little, now that the freezing weather here is likely over for the year, and hope that stimulates some fresh growth.

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Japanese Maples have finally allowed their leaves to unfold this week.

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That is what we’ve done with the roses.  We pruned, hard, and we see new shoots coming from the roots on all of our roses now.

There are a few good reasons to nurse our winter damaged woodies back to health instead of replacing them now.  First, our tree or shrub is established and has a developed root system.  Even if all of its trunks and stems are dead, new ones will soon appear from the roots.  This seems to happen every single year with my Ficus afghanistanica ‘Silver Lyre’.  It keeps the shrub a manageable size, and the plant looks pretty good again by early summer.

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F. ‘Silver Lyre’s’ stems are visible beside the Iris leaves. Rated to Zone 7b, it always returns, sometime in May, from its roots.  A Sweetbay Magnolia waits behind it, in a nursery pot.  I want to see some sign of life before planting it.

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Another reason to rejuvenate an established shrub, rather than plant a new one, is economic.  Finding a good sized shrub to replace the old one is a bit of an investment.  Weather and higher fuel prices are definitely reflected in shrub prices this spring.  I’ve felt a little bit of ‘sticker shock’ when looking at prices at area nurseries.

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These Viburnums show cold damage, even while still at a local nursery.

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And even if you buy a new shrub, it is likely to sustain damage during its adjustment time, if you live in deer country.  Shrubs fresh from the grower have been heavily fertilized to induce quick growth.  This extra nitrogen in the plant’s tissue tastes a little ‘salty’ to grazing deer, and makes the shrub that much more delicious and attractive to them.  It takes a year or so of growth before the tastiness of new shrubs seems to decline, and they are ignored by grazing deer.

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I’ve just watched a major investment in new holly trees get nibbled down nearly to the branches by deer in our area.  It is very discouraging, especially if your new shrub is replacing one damaged by winter’s weather!

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This Eucalyptus sometimes sprouts new leaves from its existing trunks in spring. Last winter it was killed back to its roots, but then grew about 6′ during the season.  I expect it to send up new growth from its roots by early May.

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All things considered, I am planning to give our woodies another six to eight weeks, and every possible chance, before declaring them and cutting them out.  It is the humane and sensible approach.  Even though the selection at garden centers this month is tempting, I will wait.

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The view this week at the top of our garden. Still looks rather wintery, doesn’t it?  The southern wax myrtles which normally screen our view, were hit hard by the cold, and a new flush of leaves have not yet opened.

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In this climate, it is generally better to plant in fall, anyway.  Fall planted shrubs get a good start in cooler weather, so their roots can grow and establish the plant in the surrounding soil before summer’s heat sets in.  The selection may be a little more sparse by October or November, but the prices are often better, as nurseries try to clear their stock before winter.

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This English holly, purchased last November, lived in a container over winter, and may be too far gone to save. I planted it out in the garden last month in hope it may recover….

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And of course, you might try propagating replacement shrubs yourself, from cuttings.  I have pretty good luck rooting hardwood cuttings over winter, or greenwood cuttings in spring and summer.  It isn’t hard to do, if you are willing to wait a few years for the shrub to grow to maturity.

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As with so many thing in the garden, it takes time and patience to achieve our goals.  They say that ‘time heals all things.’

That may not be true 100% of the time, but patience allows us to achieve many things that others may believe impossible!

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Our red buckeye tree was knocked back to the ground in a summer 2013 storm.  It lived and has grown to about 5′ high in the years since.

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Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Green Thumb” Tips: 

Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what you know from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I’ll update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about gardens and gardening.
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
Green Thumb Tip # 15: Conquer the Weeds!
Green Thumb Tip #16: Diversify!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

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Sunday Dinner: Promise

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“Know who you are,
what your potential is
and press towards it with all
that you have within you”
.
Sunday Adelaja

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“There is that gnawing feeling
that we are far more than what we believe ourselves to be.
Maybe it’s time to believe the gnawing.”
.
Craig D. Lounsbrough

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“A potential is a hidden greatness.
It is the success to be realized.
It is an accomplishment yet to be uncovered.”
.
Israelmore Ayivor

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“The unlike is joined together,
and from differences
results the most beautiful harmony.”

.
Heraclitus

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“Dreams become regrets when left in the mind,
never planted in the soil of action.”
.
Auliq-Ice

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“To be ordinary is a choice,
for everyone has it in them
to become extraordinary.”
.
Lauren Lola

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“This is the miracle of all miracles—
when life sacrifices itself to become something greater.
When it awakens to its potential
and rises in power.
That is true magic.”
.
Seth Adam Smith
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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018

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“Never become impatient with the process,
bored with the pace, frustrated at the meager results,
just keep trying.”
.
Auliq-Ice

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“All of those things – rock and men and river – resisted change,
resisted the coming as they did the going.
(Mt.) Hood warmed and rose slowly,
breaking open the plain, and cooled slowly
over the plain it buried.
The nature of things is resistance to change,
while the nature of process is resistance to stasis,
yet things and process are one,
and the line from inorganic to organic and back
is uninterrupted and unbroken.”
.
William Least Heat-Moon

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“Everything is an experiment.”
.
Tibor Kalman

 

Winter Annuals

January 15, 2015 ice garden 028

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Ice and light snow covered our “stump garden” Thursday morning when we were wandering about admiring winter’s artistry.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 029~

Our stump, left from an oak blown over in a summer storm, has been transformed into a “pedestal” with a little hypertufa and some glass.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 032

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Topped with a hypertufa trough planted with winter hardy annuals and perennials, our stump garden still looks interesting even though most of the plants around it have died back for the season.  Winter’s cold had barely touched the dusty miller, ornamental kale, and Violas  until our ice storm.  The ice coating actually protects them during the coldest weather.  Cold winds can’t strip their moisture.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 035

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The ice is only a memory now.  We’ve had two days of bright sunshine, with a “spring-like” heat wave up to the low 40’s.

That is all that was needed for the Violas, dusty miller, ornamental kale, and Sedum to perk up again.

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January 15, 2015 ice garden 039

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We are so happy that our climate allows winter annuals to thrive right through until spring.  We can enjoy their beauty during our coldest months.

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

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With special appreciation to Patricia for all of your love and efforts today. 

You are an angel, and we love you very much. 

Thank you especially for bringing the amazing croissants…

 

What remains of summer's African Blue Basil.  There are still seeds, and our songbirds find shelter in the branches.

What remains of summer’s African Blue Basil. There are still seeds, and our songbirds find shelter in the branches.

… Wait For It…..

June 7, 2014 garden 081

Our unusually intense winter made a devastating impact on several plants in the garden.  The amount of snow and ice the garden endured, and the longer period of freezing cold weather before winter finally melted into spring made this a record breaking winter in Williamsburg.

Although we are technically in Zone 7b (average low temperatures of 5-10 F) , many winters, especially in recent years, have been far milder.  Plants rated for hardiness in Zones 8-10, like our Star Jasmine, Trachelospermum jasminoides, have made it through recent winters just fine.

Normally evergreen, with thick, glossy dark green leaves, our Star Jasmine has been an important feature of this garden for decades.  Planted in brick planter box beside the railing and fence which enclose our side entrance, this vigorous vine grew to completely cover the metal structure long before we came to the garden.

June 7, 2014 garden 079

Its tough woody stems have twined themselves into oneness with their support.

We find the vine beautiful.  We enjoy it year round, but especially in winter when it is still green and leafy.  We also enjoy many weeks of its white blooms perfuming the air each summer.

June 7, 2014 garden 078

This vine is a vigorous grower and will expand its reach each year if not frequently pruned.

And so when its leaves began turning brown and dropping in February we were concerned, but hoped the vine would survive the season.  As winter turned to spring, more and more of the vine turned brown so that  our once healthy green living wall of Jasmine by the side entrance shriveled into an unsightly mass of bare vines.

I’ve avoided showing you photos of our poor Jasmine vine.   It has been such a depressing sight.

June 7, 2014 garden 077

We both had confidence in  its strength and eventual recovery.

Soon after we recycled the pots of our seemingly dead Bay trees, and after we gave up on several Rosemary and Lavender plants, we finally agreed the time had come to prune the Jasmine vine hard in hopes of shocking it into growth.

A few remaining green leaves here and there were testament to a bit of life still in the vine, but these were few and far between.

So in late April we both had a hand in the great pruning.  We took almost half of the vine, trimming back to where the structural woody branches were clearly visible.

I poured Neptune’s Harvest over the roots, and have included the planter box in all of my outdoor watering this spring.

And the vine is slowly recovering.

From a distance our Star Jasmine remains a mass of brown, with patches of green around the edges.  But up close, new leaves and fragrant flowers are visible all over the vine now.

After a hard winter, sometimes you just have to wait for plants to respond to spring on their own time.

Osmanthus Goshinki lived happily in a pot on the deck until this winter.  Since it still has some leaves alive, we hope it will soon sprout new growth.

Osmanthus Goshiki lived happily in a pot on the deck until this winter. Since it still has some leaves alive, we hope it will soon sprout new growth.

 

We still have any number of plants “in recovery.”

An Osmanthus goshiki shrub has lived in a pot on the deck for three previous winters, but has only a handful of green leaves at the moment.

We moved the pot to a shady recovery area and I we keep checking for evidence of new growth.  So far, we’re still waiting.

A new fig shrub has growth coming from the roots, but none has broken out of its woody structure, yet.

This little fig, planted in autumn of 2012, trippled in size last summer.  So far new growth is visible only from its roots.

This little fig, moved from a container to the garden  in autumn of 2012, trippled in size last summer. So far new growth is visible only from its roots.

 

I haven’t pruned off the old wood, waiting to see whether it responds to our warm May before giving up.  So from a distance the shrub looks like a casualty of winter.

Nature has its own rhythms and patterns of hot and cold, light and dark, moisture and drought.

June 10, 2014 wait for it 003

 

We observe and respond, sometimes an ambivalent dance partner with nature taking the lead in this ever unfolding dance of life.

 

A more established fig, elsewhere in the garden, finally shows new growth from its branches.  I'll continue to wait for our newly established fig to sprout new growth before pruning it bakc.

A more established fig, elsewhere in the garden, finally shows new growth from its branches. I’ll continue to wait a few more weeks for our newly established fig to sprout new growth before pruning it back.

 

Often patience is our best ally.  And we are often rewarded with beauty when we are willing to simply …. wait for it…..

 

June 7, 2014 garden 080

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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