Posts Tagged Winterhazel

Hello, Spring?

Bloodroots nearing peak bloom

Bloodroots nearing peak bloom

On behalf of winter-weary gardeners everywhere, I bid you welcome! Spring — you are here, right? It is, of course, the day of the vernal equinox, that astronomical milestone that marks your onset. I ask, because, well, you seem to be a bit more capricious than usual this year.

Yes, the plants in my yard are showing definite signs of moving toward a new growing season, as evidenced by the beautiful native wildflowers in the above photo, blooming yesterday in my yard. They are just beginning to reach peak bloom; the ones in my north garden only yesterday peeked above ground. By last year’s vernal equinox, these flowers were nearly done.

Likewise, my beautiful Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ was well past peak bloom by last year’s equinox. This year, flower buds are just now swelling, as you can see here:

Magnolia 'Butterflies" flower buds are just now displaying a hint of color.

Magnolia ‘Butterflies’ flower buds are just now displaying a hint of color.

The native spicebushes (Lindera benzoin) are reaching peak bloom just in time for your arrival. Last year, they maxed out two weeks earlier. I love the tiny specks of bright yellow that adorn every branch.

The diminutive size of Spicebush flowers are difficult for my camera to capture adequately, but you get the idea.

The diminutive size of Spicebush flowers are difficult for my camera to capture adequately, but you get the idea.

One non-native early bloomer — my large Winterhazel — is about a week and a half behind last year’s peak blooming moment. The photo here was taken yesterday, and you can see that the flower clusters are just now pushing out their pendant strings of sunny bells.

Winterhazels are just beginning to bloom.

Winterhazels are just beginning to bloom.

My other big non-native bloomers — the loropetalum shrubs — seem to be more attuned to daylight changes than temperature. Flower buds are brimming with magenta color; a few are flaunting their bright strappy petals. But I’m guessing that the full spring display will occur just about the same time it did the previous two years.

Loropetalum flowers on the verge of exploding into neon magenta splendor.

Loropetalum flowers on the verge of exploding into neon magenta splendor.

That’s all well and good, Spring. A little variation in bloom time among the ornamentals on my five acres of North Carolina Piedmont is entirely to be expected. That variability is actually part of what keeps gardening exciting; I never know when and what each season will bring.

On the other hand, your capriciousness is also a source of frustration. You see, I had a feeling you were going to take your time coming this year. So I started my spring greens in the greenhouse later than last year, planning to transplant them into their permanent beds about now. I expected later frosts, maybe even a light freeze, but because I cover the transplants in protective garden fabric, I figured they would remain unharmed.

But, Spring, you have turned my planting schedule upside down with this predicted ten-day bout of well-below-normal temperatures that includes a very hard freeze tomorrow night. The weather seers are calling for a low of 26 degrees Fahrenheit at the local airport. Here in the boonies, that will likely mean a low hovering in the mid-teens.

I can’t put tender transplants into the ground when you are bringing winter temperatures to my garden. That would be plant murder! Meanwhile, right on schedule, my onion starts arrived in the mail two days ago. Somehow, I must persuade them to be patient, because I can’t plant them yet either.

Raring to go!

Raring to go!

Spring, it’s getting crowded in the greenhouse. The greens are itching for permanent digs. My pots of ornamental plants that overwinter in the greenhouse are all putting out new growth, gaining size and enthusiasm for your arrival daily.

I know I can’t stop your games, Spring, so I’ll do my best to convince the greens to be patient a few days. I think I know what you’re up to. After lingering early and long last year, you don’t want to party here at all. I think you’re planning to pound us with winter weather until April arrives, and then depart almost immediately, letting summer’s temperatures sear us before the canopy trees are even properly leafed out. The models of the weather forecasters seem to agree. They are calling for above-normal temperatures for most of the US during the month of April, which is why I’m going to sow tomato and pepper seeds in the germination chamber in my greenhouse later today.

I love you, Spring, really, I do. But, frankly, your whimsy is one of the reasons my hair is as white as the new snow covering Boston — again — this week.

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My Secret Weapon: Wonder Spouse Photography

Winterhazel flower cluster close-up

All avid gardeners have their secrets for producing a great garden. Some of us save our own seed and bulbs, nurturing a plant line until it is maximally adapted to flourish in our garden. I know a farmer’s market vendor who has done this with the garlic variety he sells. Garlic can be tricky to grow in the middle of NC, but he has laboriously saved the best bulbs from his crops every year, until now his entire crop laughs at the wild swings in temperature and moisture levels that challenge growers in my region.

Some gardeners add secret ingredients to their soils that they swear improve the vigor of their plants. Others plant only on certain phases of the moon. The list of gardening tricks and secrets is likely as long as the list of experienced gardeners.

I have my own little secrets and tips, many of which I have shared here. Early on, I realized my greatest asset — my secret blogging weapon, if you will — is the magnificent photography of Wonder Spouse.  The best photos on this blog are all ones he has taken of the plants and animals who dwell with us on our five-acre patch of North Carolina Piedmont.

In going through my files today, I realized that he had given me a number of gorgeous photos that, for one reason or another, I haven’t shown you. Today, I am rectifying that oversight by sharing some of Wonder Spouse’s recent work, starting with that opening image.  To fully appreciate these photos, click on them to see enlarged versions.

He took that close-up of a cluster of Winterhazel flowers in the middle of March. It took his artistry (and his fancier camera) to convey what I tried to describe to you here.

In mid-April, he took this gorgeous shot of a flower bud cluster of Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’ before the flowers opened:

Rhododendron flammeum ‘Scarlet Ibis’

Even at this stage, you can tell it’s going to be a knock-out. I showed you an open bloom cluster from this year here and told you more about this cultivar here.

At the end of April, Wonder Spouse took several breath-taking photos that I want to share. This first is of an evergreen rhododendron that was growing beside our back deck when we moved in 23 years ago. I think it’s R. maximum, the species common to our mountains, and I doubt it’s a named cultivar. Somehow, it has managed to flourish beneath the enormous Northern Red Oak that towers over our home. This shrub is now twelve or so feet high and eight feet wide, and it blooms reliably despite near complete neglect on my part. Here’s Wonder Spouse’s shot of an open flower cluster during peak bloom last week:

A pollinator enjoys R. maximum flowers

Wonder Spouse is a big fan of Amaryllis cultivars. Many years ago, we bought several choice varieties, and they’ve been multiplying in their pots ever since. I overwinter them in the greenhouse and bring them inside or decorate our back deck with them when their thick bloom stalks appear. Here’s a close-up of the flowers of Amaryllis ‘Picotee’ that are still blooming on our back deck:

Each flower is about six inches across and equally long

To close, I want to share this “glamour shot” of one of the bearded iris varieties that thrive in our yard despite my less-than-optimal care. I’ve long forgotten the cultivar name, but the flowers are a lovely coppery orange color. I cut a stalk full of buds and put it in a vase on our kitchen counter, where we could appreciate its beauty and its gentle, sweet scent. One evening last week, Wonder Spouse was inspired by the effect of the overhead counter light on the iris bloom. Without bothering with a tripod, he photographed this iris in our darkened house. I think you’ll agree he captured the essential exquisiteness of this bloom:

Beauty caught between light and darkness

Thus, I have revealed my blogging secret weapon for all to see: the photography of the amazingly versatile Wonder Spouse. He makes our garden and yard look far better than I ever could show you with my pictures or words, and I deem myself the most fortunate of gardeners to be able to call upon his many talents.

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Warp Factor Spring

In mid-March, this is what I expect to see: vivid crocus blooms. This year, these two are stragglers, blooming later than their crocus comrades by more than three weeks.

My blooming trees are at least a week ahead of last year. Prompted by our absurd eighty-degree weather, Magnolia ‘Butterflies‘ has exploded into flower. Look how vividly yellow they are in the early morning as they just open:

And here’s what the tree looked like as I stared up its trunk from ground level:

I couldn’t stay too long. The potent perfume of the zillions of flowers was overwhelming.

My Chinese redbud is at peak bloom. Here’s a close-up:

And now the native redbuds are getting into the act. Here’s what the branches of one of my larger specimens looked like this morning:

And, yes, the sky really was that blue.

The winterhazels are nearly at peak bloom. Here’s a view of branches obscuring one of my bird feeders:

And here’s a close-up of winterhazel flowers:

I think their vivid color makes forsythias look dowdy.

There’s lots more, of course, but I want to give you a brief veggie update. Yesterday, I transplanted the Super Marzano tomatoes to larger pots. They didn’t miss a beat. Here they are looking like they’ve always lived in these pots:

And here are the other tomato, pepper, and basil seedlings:

Their roots are mostly hitting the bottom of their pots now. So they’ll be getting upgraded to bigger pots very soon.

Today, I sowed seeds of many of the free flowers that I got from Renee’s Garden as a benefit of my membership in the Garden Writers’ Association. I’ll be reporting on how they do throughout the growing season. I also sowed more basil seeds, because I’m planning on giving away some plants to a community garden. I’ve got the greenhouse and the seeds; I figure I should share the wealth.

Last weekend, Wonder Spouse double-shredded a big pile of fallen leaves that we had collected last winter. These broken-up leaves make the absolutely best mulch in the world for my vegetable garden. As fast as Wonder Spouse shredded it, I was tucking it around my sprouting sugar snap peas and onion plants. The peas responded instantly by growing taller. Here’s what they looked like this morning:

I am worried about our heat wave. We are predicted to remain 20 degrees above normal several more days, then we back down to a mere 10 degrees above normal. Even though I got my spring garden planted earlier than ever before, if the heat persists, I won’t get much of a yield from it.

For now, I’m watering often, in hopes that plenty of moisture will help the spring veggies thrive despite the heat. Our area remains in moderate drought, so every time I’m watering, I’m also praying for significant, frequent rain. And cooler temperatures, of course. Eighty-four degrees in mid-March is too much for any of us to handle for long.

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A Tale of Two Microclimates

Protected Winterhazel

You know the saying that moss always grows on the north side of trees? That’s because the north-facing side of tree trunks is usually slightly cooler, shadier, and more moist than their other sides. Moss likes cool, shady, moist spots, so it often grows on the north-facing sides of trees — at least in North America.

Such mossy spots exist because of differences in microclimate. A microclimate is the climate of a small area that differs from its surrounding area. It may be hotter, cooler, wetter, windier — but something makes that spot slightly different from its surroundings.

In the southeastern Piedmont, north-facing steep slopes adjacent to creeks and rivers create microclimates that favor some of my favorite plants: Beech trees, spring ephemeral wildflowers like Hepatica and Blood Root, and Pawpaw trees to name a few.

Even the smallest suburban yard has microclimates. The south side of your house differs from the north side. A hilltop will be drier and windier than the bottom of a hill.

If you pay attention, soon you’ll know which parts of your yard get frost soonest, where the snow melts first — or last. These are clues to microclimates in your yard.

One of the most striking microclimates in my yard is the south-facing wall of my garage. Even during a record 20-inch snowfall, less than an inch piled up within two feet of that wall. The birds figured it out, huddling together for warmth on the one spot of remaining bare ground. I think it may be a full zone higher there. I’m mostly 7B, but I’m pretty sure I could safely grow Zone 8 plants behind my garage. I’ll get around to trying eventually.

Last week, two Winterhazel (Corylopsis sp.) shrubs growing within 20 feet of each other reminded me of the importance of microclimate differences. I wrote about these non-native early spring bloomers here.  The one in the photo at the top of this entry shows off its lovely yellow autumn color. Probably because it’s not native, it is slower to color up in fall, which makes it more susceptible to early freezes.

The Winterhazel in the above photo grows a bit uphill from an identical shrub that I planted just above a little pond near our creek. Both shrubs are the same size. The one in the top photo often blooms a few days before the other, but I hadn’t realized the significance of that difference until last week when our low hit 24 degrees Fahrenheit.

The shrub above was unaffected by the cold. But its sister shrub by the pond, which had only just begun to show fall color, was zapped hard. The leaves died instantly, turning pale and falling to the ground. Here’s a photo of the zapped shrub shot the same day as the one above. You may need to click on it to see the few dead leaves still clinging to the branches.

Unprotected Winterhazel

Although unsightly, the zapped Winterhazel is not damaged. It will still bloom next spring. But the striking difference between the appearance of these identical shrubs caused me to take a hard look at their microclimates.

The still-beautiful Winterhazel is a bit higher up the hill, which may mean the cold air doesn’t collect on top of it quite as quickly. But I think the big difference is my house. The pretty Winterhazel is completely protected from north winds by my house. The zapped Winterhazel is not only lower down the hill, it is just far enough to be out of the wind shadow of my home. North winds have a direct line from the north side of my yard, past my house, to the south-facing floodplain where the zapped shrub resides.

The difference between the two microclimates was probably just a degree or two, but combined with a biting north wind, the zapped shrub surrendered to the cold.

These two shrubs reminded me of the importance of paying attention to microclimates whenever I’m planting new additions or relocating established plants. As in so much of life, the smallest differences can have the largest impacts.

For an excellent discussion of microclimates, check out this site.

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Winterhazel’s Soft Yellow Sunshine

Winterhazel flowers

We planted our two Winterhazel shrubs about 15 years ago in moist, semi-shaded spots. I don’t remember which species we bought anymore, but because the bushes are now fifteen feet tall and ten or so feet wide, I’m guessing they are either Corylopsis glabrescens or C. spicata. Whichever species they are, they are thriving.

I apologize for the less-than-ideal photo of a flower cluster. We pruned up the shrubs, and all the branches are far over my head now.

Winterhazels are Asian members of the Witch Hazel family. Theoretically, all Corylopsis species have fragrant flowers. However, I’ve never managed to sniff a hint of scent out of them, and my sniffer is pretty sensitive.

Our Winterhazels grew larger than we expected. One now obscures our view of a bird feeder during the summer months when its crinkly bright green leaves fill the branches. But when the shrubs are covered in masses of hanging yellow flower tassels, all is forgiven.

Many yellow flowers seem to bloom this time of year, but I especially enjoy the softer yellow of Winterhazels. Unlike the almost brassy orange undertones of yellow forsythia, Winterhazel flowers are more akin to the true yellow of daffodils, offering bits of dangling sunshine high on bare branches.

If you’re in the market for a springtime yellow-blooming shrub larger than forsythia and winter jasmine, consider the Winterhazels. Make sure to plant them in a relatively moist location, give them plenty of room to grow, then sit back and enjoy this care-free shrub well adapted to southeast piedmont gardens.



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