March Madness in the Garden

Premature blooms dying from a hard frostMarch 2013 has definitely been a challenge for Atlanta Area plants. Prior to March, Northern Georgia enjoyed another mild winter with temperatures averaging 49 degrees. Do you remember, a few weeks ago, we enjoyed a week of extremely warm temperatures in the mid to upper 70s? Now for the past few days, Northern Georgia temperatures have plummeted below freezing. This “yo-yoing” in temperature has us concerned over its effect on our garden plants and landscapes. To perform their best, plants need to go into deep winter dormancy when their metabolisim comes to a halt due to prolonged cold temperatures and chemical activity.  Winter dormancy won’t occur if our climate does not stay cold for a long period of time.

When there’s a mild winter, plants are fooled into producing new buds and push out their spring leaf flush prematurely. Since we have been experiencing a hard freeze for the past few days, any new growth that formed might die and the plant might take months to recover. Back in 2007, we also experienced an Easter freeze that decimated the local hydrangea population and knocked back the crape myrtles.  It was a big mess!  Other plants that are likely to be affected are roses, heuchera, Japanese maple and boxwood.  When a hard freeze occurs, especially after a warm winter, the branch and tip dieback is much more extensive than when we have a colder winter.  The unfortunate fact is that there is little we can do to help this situation except to appropriately cover vulnerable plants. Once we consistently reach warmer temperatures, we will possibly face other challenges from having a mild winter.  For instance, we should prepare ourselves for having more pests in the garden.  Both insects and weeds will most likely be abundant this year since the winter did not help to control their populations.

Concerned about what the weather will do to your outdoor plants?  We are always happy to help a fellow gardener in need!  Leave your comments below with your troubleshooting questions.

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