Monday, April 29, 2013

Crazy-Making Weather

As I sit at the kitchen table on a beautiful, sunny, April 29th afternoon, the thermometer nearby reads 87 degrees.  The record high for this date is 96; the normal high 72.  So we're a little over halfway between normal and record heat, on the high side.

This wouldn't be anything to think twice about except for the fact that 4 days ago we were at the end of a record-setting cold streak, having set record cold temperatures for April 23, 24, and 25th at 32, 25, and 33 respectively.

And in 3 1/2 more days, we are supposed to be right around freezing again, probably another record cold temperature. 

Our poor plants don't know whether to go ahead and leaf out and bloom, or continue to hunker down.  Gardeners are having troubles too:  do we go ahead and put the tomatoes out yet, or wait another week?  Surely NEXT week will bring stabilized temperatures! 

Last Monday night through Wednesday morning were particularly challenging:  Monday had been a pretty spring day with warm temperatures.  Thunderstorms moved through on Monday night, bringing lots of wind, lots of rain, and a fair amount of hail.

By Tuesday morning, the temperatures had dropped precipitously and the plants were showing the effects of the previous night's storms.  Despite the fact that it had been several hours since the last hail fell, there were drifts of small hail storms that ended up lasting most of the day.  Here is one such drift beside the front walkway....

Another drift of hail was near some heirloom red tulips.  Can you tell which way the wind was blowing?

In case those tulips didn't let you know, maybe these Willem de Oranje tulips will give a clue....

Or these pretty pink heirlooms....

All things considered, the garden weathered the hail, winds and large amounts of driving rain amazingly well.  When we woke up on Wednesday morning, though, the weather had another surprise waiting for us:  temperatures in the mid-20s and about 1/2" of snow.  Many plants, like the summer phlox and asters shown here, still showed the wind direction of the storms on Monday night, now overlaid with a coat of frozen white stuff.

Others hadn't kept a coat of snow on, but were definitely looking a little worse the wear because of the freezing temperatures.  The foliage of the red buckeye (Aesculus pavia), just beginning to fill out after emerging, looked particularly vulnerable.

My two little mayapple shoots (Podophyllum peltatum) didn't look too glamorous either.

I wondered about the heirloom pink tulips, now frozen over in their windblown position, but hoped for the best.

Other plants, like the clove currant (Ribes odoratum), didn't seem affected much at all, despite the fact that it had already leafed out and was in full bloom.

The pasqueflower (Pulsatilla sp.)

and the Tharp's spiderwort (Tradescantia tharpii) actually seemed to be wearing their coats of snow with panache and style!

A week later, I can happily report that none of these plants suffered much damage at all.  A few leaves on the buckeye were frozen solid and now are hanging down blackly, but most recovered with no sign of injury.  The ever-fragile Bradford pears lost a lot of leaves and may not bear much fruit this year.  Otherwise things look good.

Prairie plants have to be tough.  Most true natives are still underground and only beginning to think of sending their fragile new growth skyward.  A late spring, like this one has proven to be, illustrates the encoded wisdom of the prairie's late green-up timing, even though the human spirit is aching for earlier signs of spring.

As I swelter in today's heat, I can't help thinking ahead to Friday morning's cold - hopefully it will not get as low as they are predicting.  Even prairie plants and tough non-natives will get hurt by late freezes eventually.  Not to mention that this prairie inhabitant is ready for tomatoes!

8 comments:

jason said...

Oh, the poor tulips! I suppose this is one reason why prairie plants tend to brake dormancy later, they want to be damn sure that winter is over.

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

Oh, the tulips. They are hardier than I realized as most of mine bounced back fine too. I see leaves sprouting on several trees shrubs who were still waiting. What will the next cold blast do to those. Every time I think I'll get some annuals at the store I look and the forecast and stop myself. It must be hard for the nurseries this year. Between winter not leaving and the possibility of not being able to water this summer, I don't think people are planning to buy many plants. Hang in there and keep the coats handy.

ProfessorRoush said...

I'm feeling your pain...and expecting more of the same the week. What ticks me off the most is that the last storm got the blooms on two bush-type magnolias and my Yellow Bird Magnolia opened its first bloom yesterday...just in time to get hit by the next storm.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Speaking of feeling your pain, Prof - ouch! Not the Yellow Bird Magnolia!

All of the normal prairie species (bur oak, honeylocust, green ash, Baptisia, even butterfly milkweed) have finally started to green up and/or emerge, so if we actually get below freezing, it could be a very damaging end to the week. At this point I'm reverting to the highly scientific method of keeping my fingers crossed!

Gaia Gardener: said...

GonSS, I've worried about the nurseries, too. These last few years have been such horrible gardening years that it has to be reflected in their bottom lines. I'm just hoping that the weather folks are just a few degrees low on their predictions...and that we all skate by with lows in the mid-30s, not hovering around freezing.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Jason, this sort of weather is EXACTLY why prairie plants break dormancy late. This year, unfortunately, it may not be late enough....

Janet QueenofSeaford said...

Your poor plants with the snow/hail on them...they look so sad. I guess you are about to get hit again...my sister said they were calling for snow. (she is the one in KS)

Gaia Gardener: said...

Janet, you are indeed correct. We went from 78 to low 40's this afternoon - and the winds are howling. The weather folks have been predicting lows over the next 3 nights ranging from 30 to 36; it varies almost by the hour. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we stay above 32, as I'm sure things have leafed out enough to see some real damage if we drop below freezing. Keep your fingers crossed for us!