We were very lucky on our five-acre patch of piedmont last week. Over the course of about 36 hours, our gauge measured a total of 2.90 inches of rain. And at our house, it was almost all rain, instead of the freezing rain that plagued our neighbors no more than half a mile on either side of us. Although it’d be comforting to believe that Divine Intervention saved us from the ice, I think it was actually a microclimate that protected our trees from bending and breaking, as so many trees did in my area.
We live beside a wetland — at the moment, a very wet wetland — at the base of two ridges and adjacent to a creek. All that surrounding water had been warmed just the day before by balmy sunshine, and I think that warmed water was just enough to prevent the ambient air temperature from dropping low enough to make the rain freeze on the trees. Neighbors not far from me lost power due to fallen trees on power lines, and folks just north of me in the next county were hammered hard. Some still don’t have their power back, and schools remained closed today. They’re continuing to clean up the hundreds of trees pulled down by the ice, so that they can restore electricity to everyone.
As I heard the reports of nearby icy chaos, I began to feel downright grateful as the rain continued to fall, and my floodplain experienced what I would describe as a flood worthy of making our top 5 all-time deluges in the 25 years we’ve lived here. Of course, I attempted to record the event.
By last Friday morning, we’d already received over half an inch of rain. A few hours after sunrise as the rain continued unabated, the creek began sending out watery pseudopods across parts of the floodplain.
By mid-afternoon, as the rain continued — sometimes heavy, sometimes less so — the floodwaters stretched completely across the floodplain and as far as my eyes could see on that side. Lake-front property, if only for a few hours. This shot was taken at about the same angle, so you can appreciate the differences:
The birds sat soggy on branches, looking befuddled after they had emptied the feeders.
The red-shouldered hawk sat nearby glowering at the water, no doubt frustrated that its hunting grounds had disappeared.
Before nightfall on Friday, the sun actually peaked out as it began sinking below the western horizon. The water had already begun to recede a bit.
Saturday dawned clear and remarkably warmer. The floodplain was visible again, but covered by newly cut channels, debris piles, and many, many puddles of ugly brown water.
Wonder Spouse and I didn’t even try to survey the mess on Saturday. We’ve learned the hard way that it takes another 24 hours or so for the water to drain enough for safe walking. Try it too soon, and you can sink up to your knees in soft, stinky mud.
Sunday afternoon, we took a closer look.
It was easy to see where the creek had attempted to cut new channels across our floodplain.
Wonder Spouse is standing near the creek’s edge in this one:
In past floods, we’ve occasionally found stranded dead fish. But this time, only man-made castaways were found:
We found plenty of evidence that we were not the first creatures to venture back out onto the mucky floodplain.
Despite the mess, Sunday was a day we counted our blessings. The ice somehow detoured around us, our power stayed on, and the spring bulbs seem to have taken the abundant rainfall as a signal to simultaneously explode into bloom. And the vegetable seedlings are progressing well, sheltered safely in the greenhouse. I’ll write more about them soon.
Meanwhile, for my neighbors recovering from what we all hope is Winter’s last little joke, I’ll leave you with some of those enthusiastic spring flowers popping up everywhere out of the mud.
It was 71 degrees Fahrenheit at my house this afternoon. Frogs chorused, birds rejoiced, and flowers bloomed with abandon. This happy gardener was out sowing more seeds in her little greenhouse, weeding the spring vegetable beds in preparation for spring crops, and planting two new woody additions to the landscape. It was heavenly. I’ll be clinging to the memory of this lovely day this week, as Winter comes roaring back at me.
Freezing rain and sleet tomorrow, then snow?! Really? Nature does love her little practical jokes this transitional time of year. At least I had today, as did the pretty crocuses above. I hope they enjoyed their moment in the sun as much as I did.
Also blooming today were my dwarf crested iris. Five pale lavender beauties were open for business. Alas, they too will be but a memory after the ice is done with them.
I am grateful I had this break in the weather to plant my latest additions to the landscape. I was recently showing some folks around my garden and mentioned that I was growing all the native big leaf magnolia species except M. pyramidata, because my specimen had failed to thrive, then died.
This, of course, prompted me to check and see if my favorite source for native woodies — Woodlanders — happened to have this tree in stock. They did! I ordered it on Feb. 22. They shipped it on Feb. 25, and it arrived in perfect condition on Feb. 27. Major props to Woodlanders! These folks were hammered by a recent ice storm, but managed to get their operation back up and running quickly, just in time for their rush season. They ship only bare-rooted plants, so they stop shipping at the end of March.
They do have a minimum order requirement, so I was forced — forced, I say (ahem) — to purchase another plant to meet that requirement. My eyes went straight to their fantastic array of native deciduous azaleas, the source of most of my plants that are thriving and blooming so well. After a careful perusal of my options, I settled on Rhododendron canescens ‘Camilla’s Blush.’ This species is often called Piedmont Azalea and is well-adapted to my region. This cultivar is described as producing especially lovely, abundant, fragrant pink flowers. I think it will fit in very nicely with the rest of my native azalea collection.
Woodlanders wraps the moist roots of the plants they ship in plastic bags held tightly together by rubber bands. Branches are protected during shipping by balled-up paper snugly tucked in all around them. As always, these two newbies were fully dormant and undamaged when I opened their box.
Because I didn’t plant them for a couple of days, I opened up the plastic bags to let the roots breathe and kept the plants in my cool garage until planting time. Here they are leaning against my garage before I carried them to their new permanent homes.
I was delighted to see that Camilla’s Blush actually had three flower buds on it. Usually I have to wait at least a year to see the flowers from a new azalea from Woodlanders, because they do ship small plants, so this is a bonus. If my past experience with other big leaf Magnolia species from Woodlanders holds true for this new species, it will likely be seven or so years before I see a flower on it. That’s OK; they are totally worth the wait.
I had already picked out perfect spots for the two new arrivals inside the deer-fenced area on the north-facing side of my yard. This is where all my big leaf Magnolias and most of my deciduous azaleas are thriving. Abundant winter rains and naturally wonderful soil made for easy digging. The new plants were both tucked in and mulched in half an hour.
I am hoping that the new arrivals will forgive me for the icy coating they will receive tomorrow. They should, because they are still fully dormant, I mulched them well, and they are sheltered from the worst of the weather by tall pines to their north. Still, I wish their welcome could have been a bit less brutal.
I know I’ve no grounds for complaint. My area is only getting a glancing blow from this latest blast of Winter. Folks to my north and west are getting deeper cold and much more icy precipitation. I think I speak for most of the US when I say, “Enough already!”
OK, there’s still a pile of snow in my back yard. Really. It was a huge pile from cleaning our back deck, and it’s still not quite gone. But don’t tell that to the Spring Peepers or the Red-shouldered Hawks nesting on the floodplain, or the Red Maples throughout my yard. They all seem to be persuaded that Spring has arrived. It hasn’t, of course — not quite yet. But it seems as if the plants and animals in my yard have been biding their time, waiting for the frigid air to exit so they could explode into Spring Mode.
Most of the early-flowering plants had impressed me with their patience, not showing a hint of bud break as the arctic air ruled my region. The flowering apricots were hit pretty hard, of course. Many just-opening buds were browned by freezing temperatures. But the unopened ones still tightly shut have now opened with enthusiasm. The air around my front yard is fragrant with their perfume. I am delighted, and so are the honeybees finally making their appearance during recent warm afternoons.
The Cornus mas trees burst into spectacular bloom, yellow spotlights in a mostly brown landscape.
The Magnolia stellata ‘Royal Star’ had been exhibiting unprecedented patience with the weather, but recent 70-degree days have caused its flowers to begin opening.
The snow drops survived being buried by six inches of snow and ice and are in full bloom.
And the Witch Hazel ‘Amethyst’ is scenting the breezes with the fragrance of gorgeous purple flowers.
The warmer temperatures have all the early-nesting birds displaying territorial behavior as they pair off and claim nesting sites. Woodpecker drumming punctuates the air from dawn to dusk.
And the salamanders somehow managed to complete their late winter mating activities despite the cold and ice, as evidenced by this glob of eggs in our tiny pond.
Of course, my gardening fingers got itchy the minute the weather warmed and the frogs began chorusing 24/7. I got out the seeds that I’d ordered and contemplated my strategy.
Because I can’t expect the spring-like temperatures to last just yet (They’re on their way out as I type this), I can only start as many containers as will fit at one time in the germination chamber in my greenhouse. I settled on starting a few of all of the greens I’m trying this year (4 lettuces, 2 spinaches, and an arugula) plus the four flower varieties that require the greatest amount of time to reach blooming size. I sowed the seeds last Thursday, and here’s what they looked like this morning:
The nonpelleted lettuce seeds are well up. The coated lettuce seeds are still meditating on the merits of germination. One Tyee spinach has emerged; spinach is always slower than lettuce. All the arugulas are up and growing. And the dahlia seeds I sowed have begun to emerge — the first of the flowers, and a bit of an early surprise.
Now that I’ve got seeds going, it was time during our first warm weekend in forever to return to the vegetable garden and begin to prepare the early spring garden beds. I’ve got one weeded and ready to go for the greens. I’ll do more as weather and my aging joints permit.
Greeting me with enthusiasm were the chives I grew from seed two years ago. I was a bit worried that our prolonged freezing winter temperatures might have killed them. I worried for naught. These beautiful, delicious herbs are well on their way to growing tall enough to once again season salads, eggs, and whatever else can use a light taste of oniony goodness.
This week’s return to winter temperatures will be harder on me than the plants and animals, I imagine. It felt so wonderful to be back in the dirt, pulling weeds, cleaning up old flower stalks, discovering sudden flowers tucked into various parts of the yard.
On the other hand, my creaky joints could use a day or two — OK, maybe three or four — to recover from my pent-up gardening enthusiasm. Perhaps I’ll even feel a bit nostalgic toward this latest round of wintry temperatures. Because now I’m sure — Spring really is almost here!
It started suddenly and at a faster rate than I’ve ever seen. Within an hour, several inches of the white stuff coated every surface. This confused cardinal is sitting on top of the bird bath attached to my deck railing. Poor guy.
All the birds seemed as surprised as the humans who got stuck in massive traffic jams in my state. This Red-Shouldered Hawk had been patrolling the floodplain and calling to his mate. For the longest time after the snow started mid-day last Wednesday, he just sat on that branch, as if he didn’t quite know what to do.
By late afternoon, the snow changed over to sleet, then freezing rain, as evidenced by the small icicles dangling from the deck rail. This was fingernail-biting time. Would the icing stop before enough accumulated to pull down trees and power lines?
My suet feeders have never been as popular as they were during the ice storm. It was every bird for itself out there.
Fortunately for us, the sleet/freezing rain stopped late in the afternoon before power outages were widespread in North Carolina. I gather that parts of Georgia and South Carolina were not as fortunate. My condolences to the powerless. The birds used the lull in the storm action to fuel up, as if they knew this was but Round Two of a three-part storm system.
Thursday morning dawned dark and icy. Soon the last round of heavy snow would begin. We got six inches on Wednesday. We were warned that 3-4 more inches would collect on top of ice-covered surfaces. It hit hard and fast again.
Snowflakes instantly clung to every icy surface they encountered, making for a spectacular display.
Even ice-covered tree trunks used the snowfall to dress in their wintry best.
But the weather seers were wrong, thank goodness. We only got about another inch or so before the snow headed north. Friday morning brought sunshine and the beginning of melting. Branches were bare of ice and snow by later afternoon that day.
Despite temperatures in the low 60s during the day, you can still find piles of snow on the shady sides of roads and forming mountains in parking lots. My yard is a study in microenvironmental variability. The cold north-facing side that backs up to tall cedars is still covered in an unbroken blanket of white — thinner than it once was, but still slippery.
Warm rains and above-freezing nighttime temperatures should rid us of the last remnants soon. And just in time. All my vegetable and flower seeds have arrived in the mail. It’s past time to set up the greenhouse for spring sowings of greens and peppers, along with the flowers that take longer to grow to transplanting size. I’m off to plan and prioritize, eager to get seeds in potting soil.
But I must wait to prepare the beds in the vegetable area. They are still covered by lingering snow. I’ll share what varieties I’m trying this year in another post soon.
That was the temperature on our hill this morning just as the sun began to reveal our icy landscape. We were fortunate this time; the electricity remained on. Thanks to the valiant chugging of the small heater in our modest greenhouse, the temperature never dropped below 35 degrees — colder than optimal to be sure, but not freezing. I doubt any plants inside were harmed any worse than they were when the power did go out earlier this winter, dropping the greenhouse temperature to 18.
Wonder Spouse took the pictures you see here from inside our house, not wishing to discover what zero degrees might do to his camera. Before he took these shots, he went outside to check on things. His movements startled a doe and her twin yearlings. We had just seen them yesterday in the early afternoon, boldly walking up to the back fence, nibbling on my Virginia Sweetspire. When a yearling started devouring my one large Hearts-A-Bursting, I got mad and pounded on the window, causing them to bound across the snowy floodplain and out of sight.
We only got an inch and a half of snow Tuesday night, not even enough to cover all the imperfections in our landscape. But it never got above freezing yesterday, so the arctic air had its way with us this morning. It’s been so cold for so long that my creek is fully topped by ice more than an inch thick in most places. As the sun rises in the morning, its light makes the icy creek sparkle almost too brightly for my eyes to comfortably admire.
When Wonder Spouse startled the doe and her yearlings this morning, I watched them bound across the floodplain. But when the mother deer got to the edge of the creek, she halted abruptly, her young nearly bumping into her as they skidded to a stop, almost cartoon-worthy.
I watched Mama Deer step delicately onto the ice-covered creek while her yearlings watched. She got all four legs onto the ice without it breaking; I was surprised. When she took another careful step, the ice couldn’t handle her weight. She seemed to have been expecting this to happen, because she barely reacted as the ice beneath her other three legs gave way and plunged her into what had to be very cold water. As soon as she had regained her balance on the creek bottom, she bounded out of the water to the other side, then turned back to encourage her offspring to join her.
The first yearling managed to perfectly aim for the hole in the ice that Mama had created, bounding in and out of the water lightning fast. The second one didn’t aim as well. It hit the edge of the icy hole with its front legs, slid with a splash into the hole, scrambled around to get its feet on the creek bottom, then bounded out, soaking wet. I’ve never seen fur coats as thick and rough-looking as the ones on these three deer, so I’m hoping Yearling #2 managed to stay warm enough to survive.
To be sure, this has been a winter to test the endurance of all of us. The weather seers are promising a “significant change in the weather pattern.” Theoretically, the western US will now get the cold and precipitation, while the South returns to “normal.” For the sake of all my southern brethren, I sincerely hope the forecasters are correct.
Personally, I am more than ready for Spring’s arrival. I have a feeling I am not alone in this sentiment. Stay warm, everyone!
If you’ve read this blog much, you’ve read about my feelings regarding invasive exotic species. These plants/animals/diseases are not native to the region, which means they have no natural predators. They move in, spread aggressively, and permanently alter the composition and health of our native forests.
The problem is world-wide. Ecologists everywhere consider invasive species to be the second biggest threat to the remaining biodiversity on our planet. Only outright habitat destruction due to urbanization poses a greater threat to the health of our ecosystems.
Of the alien plant invaders I hate the most on my five acres of North Carolina piedmont, I think the Most Evil prize must go to Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum). This invading grass has transformed creeks and wetlands throughout my region into big ugly messes, and the wildflowers and ferns that once flourished there are disappearing rapidly.
Number Two on my alien invader hate list is Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). Except during the coldest of winters, this evil vine remains green all year. Like Chinese Wisteria, Japanese Honeysuckle spreads from tree to tree in our forests, creating a dense tangle of vegetation that impairs the health of trees and provides access highways for predators of our native birds attempting to nest in the trees.
A lot of folks don’t realize that English Ivy is also invading our native forests. Like Japanese Honeysuckle, English Ivy produces berries beloved by birds. They spread the seeds through our forests, and the evergreen ivy starts its takeover. The weight of these non-native vines on our native trees causes them to be more easily pulled down by strong winds and ice storms. And from a purely aesthetic point of view, vines strangling forests are quite ugly.
My yard is also plagued by one of the invading species of Elaeagnus. More of a problem in piedmont uplands than floodplains, I’m finding it all over my yard now, thanks to bird-aided seed deposition.
Much scarier to me are invading evergreen privet shrubs on my floodplain. I see near-solid coverage of this shrub in wet woodlands throughout my region. They outcompete every native plant on the forest floor.
The newest invader on my “I hate it!” list is Asiatic Hawksbeard (Youngia japonica). This astonishingly aggressive low-growing plant is outcompeting even the crabgrass in my lawn! Wonder Spouse is planning an attack with a propane-powered weeder that burns the aggressors into cinders. I don’t want to think about what happens if that plan doesn’t work.
Under the “misery loves company” heading, I’m not alone in my battle against invading exotic species. Every government agency charged with protecting our native wild lands and animals is involved in this fight. Anyone caring for a park, farming, growing timber, or any other related activity is battling invasive species perpetually.
If you live in North Carolina and you have the time and discretionary funds to do so, you might want to attend the North Carolina Invasive Plant Council’s (NCICP) upcoming meeting on Feb. 11-12. They hold the meetings in different parts of the state each year. This year, the meeting is in Asheboro, NC at the NC Zoo. This year’s presentation topics include:
- Invasive plant control in Mecklenburg County parks
- Monitoring and mapping invasive insects and pathogens
- Weed bio-control within a regulatory agency
- Birds and invasive plant dispersal
- Invasive plant challenges facing the Uwharries
- Invasive aquatic vegetation and arteriovenous malformation disease
- Invasive plants knocking at our door
- Weed identification workshop
A field trip on the second afternoon will feature the NC Zoo’s greenhouse and composting operations, as well as demonstrations of how they handle invasive species on their grounds.
I’ve been to a number of these meetings, and I always learn much. For example, it was at one of these meetings that I learned about the Weed Wrench, still Wonder Spouse’s favorite weed eradication weapon.
I’m planning to attend this year, and I’ll report the highlights here. If you live in another southeastern state, consider contacting and joining that state’s chapter of the Southeast Exotic Pest Plant Council. I checked the links to each state, and it looks like the Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina chapters are the most active, holding annual meetings. If you live in Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, or South Carolina, I would encourage you to contact those chapters through the above link and ask them why their site is inactive. I can promise you it is not because they aren’t fighting invasive alien species in those states too.
If we stand any chance at all of preserving healthy native ecosystems in our parks, national forests, not to mention our own back yards, we all need to know as much as we can about invasive alien species. Forget about invaders from outer space. The invaders we need to worry about are already here.
2014 is the Year of the Lepidoptera!
To end on a happier note, I thought I’d let my fellow North Carolinians know that our state park system has decided to highlight our native butterflies and moths this year. All of our NC parks will be offering walks and family-focused events throughout the year that will educate folks about these important insects. To find a list of events near you, go here.