Spring look reveals damage: Cut it out!

An important thing we do in early spring

We take a good look at all the plants in our charge and do what we can to correct what damage winter may have wrought. So far this year we're dealing with the effects of:

Rabbits chewing even more than usual;
Lenten rose (Helleborus) flowers frozen, rotted, and
Continuing dieback on Japanese maples hurt in last year's freezes and drought.


The winter before this one just past was ever so mild. Plants grew all winter and rabbits had no trouble reaching them since there was little snow cover. Lots of baby rabbits were born. The winter that's just ended was very long. Rabbits were starving, and ate even more than usual, including some plants they normally don't bother, such as rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), mock orange (Philadelphus), spruce and spicebush (Lindera).

Below: Rabbits not only bit off all the growth buds and branch tips but scraped through this rose's bark to eat the cambium. Even if these canes manage to leaf out they will be too weak to prosper. We cut them to the ground.


Freak warm-up in January ruins lenten rose

For several consecutive days in January temperatures were in the 50's and even 60's (F). The nights were above freezing. Some early blooming plants including lenten rose (Helleborus hybrids) were fooled into lifting their flowering buds up and away from the warm ground, which were then frozen when winter suddenly resumed. Now, those damaged buds are rotten and we're removing them to cut the chance that the new growth will be infected by the opportunistic fungi that moved in on that dying tissue.

Below, left: As we like to see them, plump and ready to pop. Below, right: Nothing to do but cut it off.

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Japanese maples already stressed, die back more

Many Japanese maples (such as Acer palmatum and A. japonicum) began growth early last year when spring arrived in our region on March 1, four weeks ahead of schedule. When hard freezes occurred in April, many of those trees lost all of their first leaves. By the time they began to push out new foliage, extreme heat and a severe drought had set in, killing more leaves. Having depleted much of their energy reserve in a double comeback, many of those trees died back last year and went into winter in a weakened state. So we're seeing more dieback and simply cutting it out.

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Below: Notice that this tree is lopsided? Reflected heat from the porch is not doing it any good, in summer or in late winter when it can fool buds into opening early. More dieback occurs there than on the opposite side, even in a good year.