Is it just me, or is Spring flying by even faster than usual this year? I am running from dawn to dark and still my gardening to-do list continues to grow exponentially. In the last few weeks, I have at least been taking a few pictures, which I’d like to share today. All but the latest blooming daffodils are done now, but the one in the above photo was so pretty a couple of weeks ago that I just had to share it.
The above photo is also from two weeks ago, when the fern fiddleheads were just beginning to rise out of the swamp. The shiny leaves all around them belong to Atamasco lilies, which last time I checked, were not yet blooming.
It took a warm spell to finally coax them from their winter hibernation spots, but the Green Anoles have now resumed sunning themselves on my front deck.
The Solomon’s Seals are now well up and blooming profusely, but two weeks ago, their fat reddish buds were just emerging from the soil.
My Bloodroot flowers were badly damaged by our 18-degree cold spell this spring, but a few late bloomers managed to save themselves for warmer days.
My patch of Mayapples grows larger every year, as does the patch of Bladdernut shrubs at whose feet these spring ephemeral wildflowers grow.
I took this long shot because I liked the way you can see this year’s flower buds emerging above the branches while last year’s fruits still dangle below them.
The above photo and those that follow were all taken on April 12. Weather and time constraints have prevented more recent shots, but a promised upcoming dry weekend will once again provide time for photographs, I hope.
The Redbuds are mostly past their blooming time now, but a week ago they were still spectacular.
The magnificent dogwoods on my property are a bit ragged from recent rains now, but they were perfect a week ago.
The above was an early blossom. Now my yard is covered in the blooming stalks of Eastern Columbines. I’ve long known these are a favorite of hummingbirds, but only this week did I learn just how sweet the nectar is. Sally Heiney, a Horticultural Technician at the NC Botanical Garden, insisted that I taste the nectar hiding in the long spurs of these flowers. It was delightfully sweet! Sally tells me these flowers are a lovely addition to salads, and I hope to try some that way this weekend. Thanks, Sally!
My early-blooming deciduous magnolias were also casualties of the 18-degree cold snap, but like the Bloodroots, a few of this tree’s blossoms opened after the cold had passed, yielding a perfect parchment-colored blossom.
Alas, most of Elizabeth’s blossoms and buds looked like this. So sad.
The Florida Anise-trees are blooming profusely. The yellow flecks are pine pollen. Thankfully, the rains have washed all that away — for now, at least.
The Golden Ragworts continue to spread and bloom. They’re becoming a ground cover in their area, which is fine with me.
My thanks to Wonder Spouse for taking the above photo. These flowers are small, and I always have trouble persuading them to pose for me. I love our naturally occurring patch of Pawpaw trees beside our creek. They are the only larval food of our native Zebra Swallowtail butterfly. And I’ve already spotted a fresh Zebra flying around the yard this year! They are gorgeous.
My Pinxterbloom Azaleas are in full bloom now. They were just getting started when this shot was taken on April 12.
I love this native shrub for its clusters of yellow-green flowers that call to every pollinator for miles, and for their Chinese lantern-like green fruits that form after the flowers are done.
I am thrilled that the trilliums I added to my north slope garden a few years ago continue to re-emerge and bloom every spring for me. Nothing speaks of spring more eloquently than trilliums.
And that’s enough for today, I think. Next week, I’m planning at least two posts. One will be my annual post in observation of Earth Day (April 22), and I’m hoping to also add one on April 24 for Arbor Day. Until then, I’ll be weeding and digging and planting as fast as my creaky joints will let me. The weather seers have promised me a dry weekend, with heavy rains returning for Sunday night into Monday. That will be perfect timing — assuming all my little green charges are safely tucked into their permanent summer beds by then.
Happy gardening, ya’ll!
From the search strings that bring people to this blog looking for information, it is possible for me to identify common themes — questions that repeat, often at specific times of the year. To answer those, I’ve decided to add a new category: FAQ, Frequently Asked Questions. This is the first post in that category.
Lately, I’ve seen several search strings asking why the writer’s deciduous azaleas aren’t blooming. Today, I’ll answer that question specifically, and I’ll also offer factors you may want to consider the next time something you’ve planted doesn’t bloom as expected.
Why isn’t my deciduous azalea blooming?
First, where are you? My earliest blooming azaleas are only just now starting to show swelling buds; I expect them to bloom in the next week or so here in the piedmont region of North Carolina. If you are further south, your local deciduous azaleas may well be blooming. If yours aren’t and your neighbors’ azaleas are blooming, check for these issues:
- Does your azalea have flower buds? Flower buds of these shrubs are much larger and rounder than the leaf buds. Here’s an example:
- How old is your planting? Most of my deciduous azaleas didn’t begin blooming until the third year after I planted them, because I buy small, less expensive shrubs.
- Is your shrub still alive? Because these shrubs mostly bloom before they leaf out, a casual glance may not answer this question. With your fingernail, gently scrape away a bit of bark along the stem. If you see green, your shrub is alive. This is a great way to test for life signs in any woody plant.
- Is your shrub sited correctly? Some deciduous azaleas are native to dry slopes, some to moist slopes, and some to moist bottomlands. If your shrub isn’t sited correctly, blooming will be inhibited.
- Is your shrub getting enough sunlight during the growing season? The leaves that follow flowering won’t be able to make enough food to create flower buds for the next season if they don’t receive enough sunlight. In my experience, these shrubs need a minimum of four hours of strong sunlight, preferably morning light.
- Is your shrub receiving enough TLC? Are you watering during droughts? If not, to conserve resources, shrubs will drop flower buds first. Are the roots mulched to keep them cool? Are weeds choking the shrub? Any of these factors stress your shrub and reduce its likelihood of flowering.
- Did your shrub bloom heavily last year? Some plants alternate heavy blooming years; some even wait several years before blooming heavily again. If yours was gorgeous last year, maybe it’s taking a break this year.
- Did your yard get hit with a late hard freeze? Cold air kills tender flower buds and blooms quite easily. Check your plant for limp, brown buds.
- Have you checked for deer damage? Flower buds of deciduous azaleas are not favorite deer food, but deer will eat — or at least taste — almost any plant. If you have stems with the buds chomped off, suspect deer. After the leaves drop this fall, spray any flower buds you see with deer repellant, or enclose the area where the azaleas grow with deer fencing to keep the critters away from your beauties.
- Did you prune your shrub at the wrong time? Deciduous azaleas should never be sheared into shapes the way some folks do to their evergreen Asian azaleas (and they shouldn’t do that either, in my opinion). The natural branching structure of deciduous azaleas is part of their charm. However, if you feel the need to prune a stray branch, be sure to do it just after the shrub finishes flowering and before it sets flower buds for the following growing season. This applies to all blooming trees and shrubs. Prune them after they flower; otherwise, you will be pruning branches containing the next season’s flower buds.
The above questions/guidelines apply to blooming perennials, other shrubs, and also trees. By the way, fertilizing these plants can often create more problems. If you site your plants correctly, mulch them with an organic, weed-free mulch, and keep them adequately watered, they will thrive without additional nutrients. The staff at the NC Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill, NC never fertilize any of their gorgeous plantings. Fresh organic mulch is applied annually, and they add water during droughts. That’s it; that’s all happy natives need.
The only plants I fertilize in my yard are the few annual flowers I plant along my front walk, and my vegetables. These short-lived plants appreciate the extra boost fertilizer offers. Before I realized my native plantings didn’t need the help, I noticed that the fertilized plants in my yard were preferentially devoured by deer — one more reason to eschew fertilizers, even the organic ones.
The next time you expect a plant to flower and it doesn’t deliver, run down the above checklist to be sure you’ve met all its requirements. If you have, all I can counsel is patience.
I am delighted to report that last weekend’s 18-degree drop-of-death (to many blooming trees, shrubs, and bulbs) did not adversely impact our spring vegetable garden. Wonder Spouse and I spent a half hour or so tucking them beneath heavy-weight spun garden fabric designed to help veggies survive cold spells. We tacked it down with the metal staples sold for that purpose, and crossed our fingers.
I didn’t lift the covers until yesterday, wanting to be sure the chilly nights would stay gone for a while. They looked fine, but thirsty, so I thoroughly watered all of them. This morning as the sun was topping the trees, I was thrilled to see how well the greens had responded to the previous day’s watering.
I decided on the spot, “This calls for a Fool’s Day salad!”
The red leaf lettuce (Merlot — from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) positively glowed with tasty antioxidants. But all the greens were vibrant in the rising sunlight. The mix of Asian greens will add subtle bitter notes to the sweetness of the lettuces. Fresh chives and dill will elevate flavors yet another notch. The recently planted parsley was not yet large enough to pick. By the next harvest, I should be able to add its tender leaves to the mix.
I’m thinking I’ll add a few Kalamata olives, some organic carrots from the store, and perhaps a sprinkling of whatever cheese loiters in the fridge to create tonight’s dinner masterpiece. Of course, I can’t take the credit. Those glorious greens do all the work.
I am not ashamed to admit I am a fool for fresh-picked salad. It’s a spring tonic in a bowl, uplifting spirits as it replenishes winter-weary bodies. I recommend it to all — no foolin’.
Happy Fool’s Day!
This post is for me. It will serve to remind me of the fleeting moment when my early bloomers all exploded simultaneously with colorful enthusiasm. Today ahead of a cold front charging at us from the west, our air is sultry, and we’ll be downright hot this afternoon. Ah, but Early Spring will show her cruel side by this Sunday morning. A hard freeze is forecast. In town, lows will bottom out at about 28 degrees Fahrenheit. At my house, that will probably translate to 24 degrees, maybe even lower. The daffodils above will likely survive, but the early-blooming trees will not be so fortunate. And so today, in this post, I salute the beauty about to be blackened by Arctic air.
Its flowers must be viewed more closely to be fully appreciated:
My weeping cherry is just starting to open. Its flowers always open at the tips of its branches first, and then progress up the arching arms of this beauty. Here are a few close-ups of these fragile blooms.
I would never buy pink hyacinths on my own (not my favorite color), but these were a gift. They multiply every year, and I think the cold winter has made them bloom more enthusiastically than usual. When the breeze blows their perfume my way, I cough — too potent for my tastes.
Yesterday, the enormous stand of native Bloodroots — one of my favorite spring ephemeral wildflowers began blooming. Alas, the petals of these delicate beauties shatter easily. Predicted heavy rains will likely pound their petals into the ground. So indulge me as I share a few shots of this ever-increasing stand of ephemeral flowers.
Most heart-breaking of all will be the loss of my Magnolia “Butterflies” blooms. I have repeatedly counseled it to wait just a few more days, but the current round of warm air has deceived it into cracking open its enormous fuzzy buds to release its bright yellow blooms. My only consolation is that its cousin, Magnolia ‘Elizabeth’ is still holding her buds tightly closed. She usually blooms a week after Butterflies, and this year appears to be no exception.
On a slightly happier note, the cold air will only prolong the productivity of my spring veggies. We enjoyed the first salad from our garden last week. Admittedly, it was a small salad, but that did not detract from the tender sweetness of the lettuces, the zing of the arugulas, and the mellow hint of onion from newly emerged chive leaves. I’ll tuck them beneath their fabric cover when the freezing temperatures approach. They should be fine.
I’ve been testing the soil temperature every few days. It must be a minimum of 55 degrees for carrots to germinate well. As of three days ago, it was still 48 degrees! After the weekend cold spell, I believe the temperatures may normalize. If the sun will stay out, perhaps the soil will finally warm enough for me to sow carrots and some more spinach and beets. It will be a gamble sowing this late. If summer heat arrives early, I probably won’t get much from these late-sown seeds.
A few day’s before winter’s astronomical departure, from my window I watched a sliver of its final moon fade into a brightening sky. Vocal accompaniment was provided by White-throated Sparrows, who have begun singing their minor-key mating calls robustly at day’s first and last light.
Soon, I reminded myself, the creek reflecting dawn’s light as it snakes along my eastern border will vanish, obscured by summer’s lush overgrowth. Soon, the tall canopy giants – Green Ash, Tulip Poplar, Red Maple, Water Oak, Loblolly Pine, Sweet Gum — that tower over the floodplain will don fresh foliage, merging high above into the roof of my green cathedral. As the Cheshire Cat smile of the moon faded, my gaze lingered on still-bare interweaving branches, starkly outlined, black against an eastern sky tinged with coral and peach.
Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wrens, myriad warblers – all competed to be heard by their One True Love. The Northern Mockingbird, who silently guarded a still-berry-laden holly for months, decided two days ago that it was time to make his presence known. Every visit to my vegetable garden is now serenaded by Mr. Mocker’s versatile repertoire.
Plants pushed deep into hibernation by winter’s prolonged grip are exploding into a procreative cloud of pollen and fragrance. Yellow, lavender, blue, ivory – everywhere color spotlights awakening green friends from their slumbers. Crimson flowers of Red Maples remind me that the giants in my landscape are also stirring.
The dance has begun. Transformation from winter’s contemplative landscape to spring’s ebullience gains momentum as the new moon of the vernal equinox makes its entrance. Love and hope are easier to find as the earth returns to spring. May all your spring dreams of beauty bring hope to your heart – and the most abundant, healthy gardens you’ve ever grown.
Happy Spring, y’all.
A little less than thirty years ago, I was still fairly naive about yard landscaping. I was an ace on organic vegetable gardening, and I knew a lot about native plants, but I was mesmerized by all the glossy gardening magazines that demonstrated how we all should be landscaping our yards. I bought the hype. What can I say? Gardening is all about trial and error. Experience is always the best teacher, and my experience with Leyland Cypress (Cupressus x leylandii) is a textbook example of what I’ve learned the hard way.
When Wonder Spouse and I first moved to our five-acre landscape 26 years ago, we were eager to block out any views of what has become an increasingly busy road. Most of the road front was already blocked by a wild mix of overgrown vegetation dwelling beneath a stand of mature Loblolly Pines, but down in the far northeast corner where the creek that borders our property goes beneath the road, we had an unobstructed view of the traffic, and vice-versa. To reduce traffic noise and increase privacy, we decided to add evergreen trees that would fill in the gap. I immediately thought of Leyland Cypresses.
Leylands were the hot new screen tree back then. They grow very fast — over three feet a year, they keep a nice columnar shape. They can grow 60-90 feet tall, but remain 12-15-feet wide. And they were advertised as trouble-free. Now wise landscapers in my region know better. It turns out that this natural hybrid of western North American cypresses is prone to pests and diseases, especially when it’s not sited correctly. We planted our trees in moist, well-drained sandy loam; we never had any significant pest/disease issues. In fact, our Leylands did exactly what we envisioned, growing 50-60 feet tall in 26 years; they blocked the road and its traffic noise perfectly.
What was not advertised in the literature a quarter century ago — at least not anywhere I saw — was the fact that Leyland Cypresses have remarkably shallow root systems for trees that grow as tall as they routinely do. This, of course, makes them susceptible to being toppled by high winds and heavy ice and snow accumulations. Because our trees were tucked down by the creek, they were protected from strong winds. And they weathered past ice and snow storms just fine. But the last big storms were about 12-15 years ago. Our Leylands had grown probably another 10-15 feet since those storms. This past February’s 5-inch snow was wet; heavy accumulations of snow stuck to every evergreen in my yard. We’re still cleaning up broken branches of Loblolly Pine and Southern Magnolia. But those trees didn’t topple; a number of the Leylands popped right out of the soil and fell onto each other. Five or six trees — about half the stand — came down.
It took Wonder Spouse and two helpers — all with chainsaws — half a day to clean up what the snow toppled. The rest of the Leylands seem to be holding their own for now, but we are debating whether we should bow to the inevitable and take them down too. However, that’s a task best left to this autumn. Our immediate concern was the gap left behind that has re-opened unobstructed views (and noise) of the road.
Having learned my lesson, I decided to replace the Leylands with native evergreen trees that I knew would thrive in that spot. They don’t grow as quickly as Leylands, being characterized as having moderate growth rates. Both of these native species already grow in my yard. They were here when we moved in. Neither species suffered any damage from the recent heavy snow. I know their roots go deep, having tried to relocate their seedling trees from time to time. Thus I settled on Red Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) and American Holly (Ilex opaca). Both species are important food sources for native wildlife, they provide shelter during winter, and make excellent camouflaged nesting sites in summer.
We decided to invest in named varieties of these natives, because they offer more predictability, and often a bit more vigor. We need strong, hardy trees for this spot. Thus, I went to my favorite mail-order nursery that offers small, bare-rooted trees with a price friendly to our budget constraints. I’ve had great success with plants from this nursery. They start out small, but with good siting, they always grow into wonderful specimens in a few years.
For our two holly additions, I chose Ilex opaca ‘Dan Fenton.’ Because hollies are either male or female plants, nurseries sort these out and sell mostly females, because they are the ones that produce berries. If you don’t have male hollies growing nearby, you must add at least one to your planting. Our property is loaded with American Hollies of both sexes, so I just got two female plants. They are supposed to have very glossy foliage and look much more ornamental than the average native tree. Mature trees are predicted to be 20-25-feet tall and 15-20-feet wide.
My Red Cedar choices were between a variety noted for its narrow growth form and one with a pendulous form. I have a few of these more pendulous trees already growing on my property. Their branches droop down aesthetically, but don’t seem to break from ice and snow any more than the straighter forms in my yard. We purchased three Juniperus virginiana ‘Hancock Weeping’ trees. The term “weeping,” in my opinion, is a bit misleading. The branches don’t cascade downward in the way that weeping willows or weeping cherries do. To my eye, such Red Cedars have broader shoulders that hang down a bit. Thus, the trees are wider. Hancock Weeping is predicted to reach a mature size of 25-30-feet tall and 8-10-feet wide — large enough to shelter us from the road, but not so tall as to be prone to toppling by bad weather.
We arranged the new Red Cedars in a triangle near the creek. In front of those and facing our house, we added the two new American Hollies. As the hollies grow and produce berries, they should be framed nicely by a background of growing Red Cedars. In my mind’s eye, I can see them in their mature forms, valiantly blocking road sights and sounds, and feeding and sheltering wildlife.
That ability to envision the futures of our plant charges is an important skill of successful gardeners. I wasn’t born with it. I developed it over the years — years of learning from my mistakes — mistakes such as planting Leyland Cypresses. I offer my experiences here in the hopes that I can save at least a few folks out there from repeating my mistakes.
Before the clouds closed in, our day started with the eastern sky ablaze with color, the air filled with bird song and frog calls. And because this day was preceded by a day packed with warm air and sunshine, I have a few flower shots to share.
Every late-winter/early-spring-blooming plant I grow is 3-4 weeks later than usual in blooming. Not that I blame them! That was one rough February for all of us. My trees, shrubs, and bulbs have bided their time, but they couldn’t contain themselves any longer when sunshine and warmer temperatures finally returned.
The little bulbs showed up first. The snowdrops got flattened by our snow, but the crocuses and little irises were not far along enough to be damaged. So delicate and lovely!
My three-year-old Aurora witch hazel exploded in orange-yellow strappy petals that emit a sweet, clean fragrance detectable on the breeze.
My Amethyst witch hazel starting blooming about a week before Aurora, but it is still quite pretty.
Every year I can remember, the Ice Follies daffodils are first to bloom. But not this year. This year, the big yellow ones — I think they are King Alfred’s — bloomed first. As of yesterday, the Ice Follies were not quite open still.
My small Cornelian cherry dogwoods (Cornus mas) are lighting up the landscape with their small, bright yellow flowers. Individually, the flowers aren’t much to look at, but when they cover an entire plant, you can’t help but notice this tree.
This year, the Lenten Roses actually waited well into Lent before beginning to show their bloom faces.
My past records tell me that my Royal Star magnolia often begins blooming in early February. This fuzzy shot is of the handful at the top of my 25-foot-tall tree that opened in yesterday’s sunshine.
The afternoon sunlight did a nice job of enhancing the color of this hazelnut’s golden catkins, the male flowers. I looked for the tiny female blooms, but didn’t see any.
This one surprised me. My beautiful Parrotia persica tree always blooms this time of year. Its flowers are small and inconspicuous, because they are wind-pollinated. Evidently, my neighbor’s honeybees still managed to find something in them worth visiting.
Not to be left out of the act, the forest giants are beginning their bloom cycles too. The elms have been blooming for a couple of weeks, as my allergies will testify. Now the treetops are punctuated with the crimson flowers of the Red Maples. Some of the trees have orange-tinged flowers like these, but others have deeply scarlet blooms.
My beleaguered ornamental flowering apricots are also still pushing out flowers. Their landscape impact was severely impaired this year by the prolonged cold. But when the wind blows from the south, I still get an occasional whiff of Peggy Clarke’s perfume.
All in all, I’d say March is treating my landscape with lamb-like kindness — so far, at least. Here’s hoping it remains a kinder month than that brutal February we all endured.