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April snows bring heartache

I think that this is the worst time of the year for gardeners because of the weather. Yes, we worry about winter’s cold temperatures and summer’s droughts, but these weather changes that damage our beautiful spring flowers really make it frustrating.

All of my beautiful beds of daffodils and hyacinths were cooked with this past week’s temperature drop. My star magnolias were toast as well.

I did have a chance to go out on Monday night and pick a bunch of them for a large bouquet to enjoy indoors.

All I could think of was that if April showers bring May flowers, what does April snow bring for a gardener? Heartache and headaches.

This is the time of year that I get a lot of questions from both the media as well as gardeners, wondering what people should do with their plants when temperatures drop below freezing.

The biggest factor that determines the extent of cold damage to plants has to do with the weather right before the temperatures drop.

If we have really nice, warm temperatures (like we did this past weekend) right before a cold snap, damage tends to be greater.

Warm temperatures encourage plant growth and development. These growing plants are “soft” and won’t tolerate sudden temperature changes. Blooms are especially susceptible to cold temperatures and are usually killed.

I have only seen a few times when the foliage is severely damaged. This occurred several years ago when we had a week of really warm temperatures around this time of April and then the bottom dropped out.

We had extensive foliage damage to perennials, trees, and shrubs. However, we cut the perennials back and left the trees and shrubs alone. They were fine for the rest of the season.

Most of our perennials, trees and shrubs that are leafing out tolerate frost and cold temperatures. However, they don’t do too well with freezing temperatures (below 32 F). And again, if the temperatures prior to the freeze were warm enough to cause a flush of growth, damage increases.

So, when someone asks about what to do to protect plants from cold, it really all depends on the situation.

I don’t normally cover flowering plants such as the trees, shrubs and spring-blooming bulbs for two reasons. I have too many to worry about (and it would take a lot of effort) and they are really spread out so far that it’s tough to cover them.

In addition, if freezing temperatures are predicted, I’ll cut any flowers that I still want to enjoy the night before and put them in a container in the house.

I will cover any vegetable plants that might be at risk. Keep in mind however, that many of the cool crops that are planted in March and April tolerate light frosts and a light freeze.

On the other hand, a warm spell followed by a freeze will cause damage so you might want to protect these types of plants.

The bottom line is that if you are in doubt, cover and protect to be on the safe side.

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