We should have shared this Onslaught of Winter article with readers a few weeks ago. However, the nature of this particular Twin City late autumn has been keeping our company busy until the real snow arrives.
Each autumn in our area is unique in its appearance and character. No one seems to record each year’s peculiarities and we usually remember only the extremes….especially the thirty inches one Halloween in the 1990s and a repeat the next year a day later….or the crushing wet three foot snowfall of November 13th a few years ago.
Last week’s three inch snowfall was noted only for its wet and ugliness. Most of the deciduous trees maintained their leaves until the drop and the cold which followed. Most of the leaves never reached full color. My Ginkgo never aroused its beautiful yellow, but dumped its green in a two day fall last week.
The redbuds held their bright yellows for three weeks; the Ohio Buckeye, earlier in October was as beautiful an orange as ever. The red obelisk beech are coloring well, but late. The PJM Rhododendron’s autum color was as always exceptional….but also a bit late.
Most all of the spiraeas, viburnums, the winged euonymus, magnolias, azaleas, weigelas, dogwoods and my teen age white oak remained in summer attire and color until the last few days.
I shouldn’t complain about the beauty of the garden color this fall despite its late start. Every year this gardened landscape appears more radiant, for most of the color is larger because the plants are larger.
We had a late frost this year….a killing one at my grounds only last week.
I have more than a half an acre of gardened grounds. I begin ‘clean up’ as soon as I have time to do it and then straighten out the visual disorder first in areas viewable from my windows or along the paths I walk in winter.
The grounds here are bird sanctuaries year round. Most of my woody plants are conifers where they can nest and/or hide. I also leave plenty of deciduous material standing or lying around for other bird needs. Bird feeders are ugly, messy, and attract varmints.
What material stays is usually what is still beautiful. The weather usually dictates beauty.
Among the most beautiful herbaceous perennials in the winter garden is the rich red-brown mass of Hot Lips Turtlehead stalks and foliage, but only if the early snows are dry. Any heavy wet early snows easily crush their still green stems as well as the stems of most other herbs.
Big hostas get ugly quickly usually the day after the first frost. I wait a week or so when it quite easy to pull the sloppy wet leaves from their crowns.
Usually, it is a good idea to remember that most winters n our area are rather normal winters…with some longer than others, and maybe a bit warmer or colder.
If you don’t have time or find it too cold to clean up the landscape garden in late autumn and decide to leave the chores until Spring, you are saving most of your plants from the one disaster that is the most devastating to those who fastidiously purify their gardened grounds going into winter.
About once every 20 to 25 years our Twin City landscapes suffer a Test Winter…..a winter with little or no snow cover with temperatures reaching fifteen or more degrees below Fahrenheit, or below zero at all if accompanied by wind.
There will be losses for those of us who grow cultivar conifers and/or specialty herbaceous perennials….anything with suspect hardiness.
By leaving foliage in place until Spring the winter ‘breezes’ push leaf debris against any resistance, obstacles such as shrubbery ….any plant stems especially those with foliage providing cover at the crowns of each plant offering some protection in a snowless world.
To be extra safe do as I do….Collect some bags of oak leaves and store them in the garage in the event threatening temperatures do arrive at your snowless landscape garden so you have something handy, inexpensive, and very useful in protecting your favorite, more tender items.
Lawns should be free of leaf cover to avoid disease problems no matter what the temperature.