When Spring Turns to Winter
I was in Tucson for spring break last week. Imagine my surprise to hear reports of two feet of snow along Colorado’s Front Range! It was hard to believe until we hit the blizzard coming over Raton pass. Old Man Winter wasn’t ready to leave just yet.
Late spring snowstorms happen every few years in Colorado. Maybe you remember Mother’s Day last year? It’s interesting to note that most cities along Colorado’s Front Range usually experience their last frost in the first 3 weeks in May. It’s not over yet.
Here’s how these weather surprises can affect our landscape plants.
Heavy snow can break branches.
When wet snow accumulates on the tops tree and shrub branches, they can bend outward or even break. These breaks are often dramatic longitudinal splits that damage cars, houses and power lines.
If you have damaged branches, prune off the affected limbs as neatly as you can. A good pruning cut is the best thing you can do. Don’t bother using any type of pruning paint or wound dressing. Call a certified arborist if you can’t do the pruning yourself.
Emerging leaves freeze
The warm weather in early March caused some plants to start pushing their leaves. When the overnight lows dipped, some of this new leaf tissue froze, which caused the leaves to blacken and shrivel. If the leaves were little when they freeze, often only the edges of the leaves were damaged.
Most of the time, trees and shrubs can recover from have their leaves nipped. If it was just the edges, the leaves will expand and grow normally. If it was the whole leaves, the plant will grow a second set in a few weeks. Here’s where patience (and not doing anything) is a virtue.
It’s interesting to note that most native plants leaf out late. They stay dormant until mid or late May, then leaf out when the danger of frost has passed. It’s mostly the imported plants that get caught by late spring frosts. If your plants frequently experience leaf damage in spring, consider adding some natives to balance the mix.
Flower buds freeze
This is a hard one to bear. Just when you’re ready for a few flowers to signal the end of winter, they get killed by the frost. Bummer.
It’s not harmful to plants to have their flowers freeze, but it is disappointing for us humans. The flowers just brown and shrivel over a few weeks. They don’t rebloom, so you have to wait another year for the possibility of flowers.
The long-term solution is to plant late spring-flowering plants. For example, when it comes to selecting crabapple trees, daffodils and fruit trees–pretty much any plant that will bloom before mid-May– I always look for cultivars that bloom later in spring. This is a key consideration for success with spring-flowering plants. Smart gardeners have great-looking landscapes because they consider factors like these.
To sum it up, prune any broken tree or shrub branches, but don’t worry about frost-damaged leaves or flowers. Let’s hope spring is right around the corner, but don’t trade in your winter boots for flip flops just yet!