March 24, 2012

March Madness - Natives vs Non natives fight for survival in the warmest spring ever.

OUR NATIVE ( AND STATE WILDFLOWER FOR MASSACHUSETTS) MAYFLOWER,DESPITE ITS NAME, TYPICALLY BLOOMS IN MARCH - MOST NATIVE PLANTS EMERGE LATER THAN IMPORTED ONES - WHICH IS WHY ONE NOTICES THE MORE SUSCEPTIBLE SPECIES WHEN EARLY SPRING WEATHER FORCED THEM TO JUMP - THEY OBVIOUS CANDIDATES?- FORSYTHIA, MAGNOLIA, APPLES, CRAB. BRADFORD PEARS - THEY'RE ALL A LITTLE STUPID - TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR LOCAL FOREST, AND SEE HOW MANY TREES ARE IN FULL BLOOM VS THOSE AT YOUR SUPERMARKET PARKING LOT.

TAKE A LOOK AT YOUR LOCAL FOREST, AND SEE HOW MANY TREES ARE IN FULL BLOOM VS THOSE AT YOUR SUPERMARKET PARKING LOT.It's easy to pick out the native trees and shrubs from the imported ones. Just take a look at the Bradford Pears at bloom at your local gas station or supermarket parking lot,  and then take a glance at your local forest - in most spring's, the forests remain brown while foundation plantings and nurseries pitch pots of yellow forsythia, flouncy Magnolias and purple rhododendrons - in full bloom.  When the seasons merge, and in years like this one, when record-breaking warmth arrives even earlier, these imported species bloom, blindly believing that summer is near, but typically, native species are much later. 

What concerns many of us gardening types this year, is that across the US, the weather is not only off, it's record-breakingly off, and not just hot for a day or two, but much warmer than every before in recorded history - and that temperature range is so broad, that it's not as if the highs are just a couple of degrees warmer, but often more than 20 degree's warmer. This strange state of our climate is not only forcing imported species to bloom and sprout even earlier, it is tricking the native species to emerge earlier, which is the more concerning issue at hand.

Here in Massachusetts, the temperatures are soaring into the 70's 80's for the seventh day in a row. Not unheard of for a day or two in New England, but this is going on for over a week now. So as non-gardeners yap about how they hope this happens every year, those of us who know about such things, are preparing as best we can for the end of the world botanically speaking. Or at least, the end of some plants in our gardens. 

It can ( and most likely will) happen next week, as temperatures drop back to a more 'normal' range in the thirties and forties - our typical seasonal temperature average for today is 38 deg. F. So if you are like the girl who was cashing us out at the register last night at the supermarket, who was "so psyched about this hot weather" you might not care that many plants will be severely damaged over the next month, if the temperatures return to normal. Whatever the cause, be it global warming, or a shift in the tilt of the earth due to earth quakes, or the end of the world, the plants are telling us something - and it's all a little scary. Ten years ago the temperature dropped in Mid May to 26 degrees, and many native oaks and ash trees were lost. Since this is only late March, anything can happen.


 Not all Magnolias are created equal. This M. stellata is designed for early bloom, often blooming in April for us in mild years. Given that this is late March, I am not that concerned with this species - but the larger species and hybrids of Magnolia x soulangeana are dangerously in peril if the temperatures drop lower than 26 degrees F. once new growth emerges.  Let's face it, they normally are nipped by late frosts here in New England, but this year it is worse, since the native trees are even emerging from their sleep. The blossoms are often damaged in mid-May when this Magnolias normally bloom, but given that this is late March? I am holding little hope.

A YELLOW MAGNOLIA, THAT WAS DAMAGED BY OUR FREAK OCTOBER BLIZZARD, NOW HAS TO DEAL WITH BLOSSOMS AND NEW GROWTH EMERGING FIVE WEEKS EARLIER THAN LAST YEAR. WITH TEMPS EXPECTED TO DROP DOWN TO 26 DEG. F ON MONDAY, I HAVE LITTLE HOPE FOR THIS TREE. 
Avoiding frost damage on trees and shrubs depends on many factors, but mostly it depends on where the species you are growing comes from. Magnolias from warmer parts of China may emerge early, but they are often not accustomed to early frosts in their native lands, so frost damage in common. Elevation factors in, especially if the species hails from colder areas of Japan or China, where many plants are used to emerging early to take advantage of specific pollinators or the wind.  Alpine plants may bloom early and can handle hard frosts with little damage.

CORNUS MAS, A CHINESE SPECIES OF DOGWOOD, TYPICALLY BLOOMS FOR US IN FEBRUARY, SO ACTUALLY, THIS ONE IS BLOOMING LATE. FROST WILL NOT AFFECT THE BLOSSOMS.


TENDER SHRUBS, SUCH AS THIS AUSTRALIAN MINT SHRUB - PROSTANTHERA, CAN OFTEN HANDLE LIGHT FROST, BUT GIVEN THAT THIS POTTED SPECIMEN SPENT THE WINTER IN THE GREENHOUSE, I WILL RETURN IT TO THE PROTECTION OF GLASS, IF THE WEATHER SHIFTS COLDER.

CORYLOPSIS IS NATIVE TO CHINA, BUT IT TOO BLOOMS EARLIER, EVEN IN COLD SPRINGS. LITTLE DAMAGE IS EXPECTED, EXCEPT PERHAPS TO TENDER NEW GROWTH. 
Dutch bulbs such as narcissus and Chinodoxa, Crocus etc will all survive frosts, even freezes and snow without damage.

Cold-hardy perennials such as the Japanese Butter Bur ( Petasites japonicus) normally blooms very early for us, sometimes in January, but these late spring blossoms are undamaged by frost. This is a plant that grows in high mountain valleys in the wild, and being a snow-melt plant, is designed for early emergence - the foliage follows later.

1 comment :

  1. I don't think you can make the analogy of natives knowing the season versus the non natives that don't. Here in WI with our record-breaking temps, the native species are chiming right in. Sturgeon are spawning 5 weeks early, the cranes returned 6 weeks early. Blackbirds are back, hepatica are in bloom. There is no natives vesus non...just grow where you are planted.

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