This site is for people who like plants -- growers, enthusiasts, aesthetes, novices and professionals, those who appreciate wild things and those who appreciate the cultivated. I garden in Chelsea, and I've been visiting people's yards for 20+ years in the course of my work. My goal is to make this blog a community project, so if you share my interests, please consider becoming a participant and contributing content -- Guerin. Info:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Winter damage? Don't give up!

-- by Brent Kryda
Some of us might have noticed that certain perennials and trees have taken a bit of time to come back from the brutal beating they received this winter.  I am still waiting patiently for my evergreen Magnolia grandiflora to revive, and many fellow tree growers consider this to be a quest in vain.  "It's not from around parts this cold."  "Zone denial is a thing of the past, we have real winters again."  "This is spruce country.  If you want an evergreen, stick to needles."  These points have some truth to them (never mind that with the exception of some remnant boreal bogs, this is not really spruce country), and this winter did take a toll on many species. 

Take the eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), for instance.  While we did see a decent amount of those majestic pink blossoms, they tended to be severely reduced in quantity in all but the most protected locations.  To further make us think that the trees were dead, many of our decorative friends took a much longer time to leaf out than many other deciduous trees.  The same can be said for many other more "southerly species", such as sweetgum (Liquidambar styracifua) and the noble baldcypress (Taxodium distichum), two species more associated with Virginia and Mississippi than with anything this far beyond the Ohio River.  Even the much loved redbud is pretty much at its natural northern limits here, and most planted specimens are undoubtedly the product of nursery stock raised further south to take advantage of a longer growing season.  That said, even Michigan-sourced and wild trees (including the sheltered ones along the banks of the Huron in Delhi Metropark) took a heavy hit from the intense and prolonged cold.  Flower buds simply could not cope with the fury of winter 2014. 

But there is still hope!

As you can see, this 2012 planted baldcypress is taking it's sweet time getting re-needled.  Most of the buds at the tips of its structure have yet to produce anything remotely green, but the tree is making a comeback.  My advice is to be patient with all but the most definitively sub-tropical stuff and just let the things heal.  I write this because I have seen so many redbuds and the like given the axe this season even after they started to leaf out just a little bit!  I know that many gardeners have already long finished their spring culling, but if you have some lazy bones among you like yours truly does, just keep being lazy.  If they are native/adventive to some place reasonable nearby as all the trees mentioned in this post are, they will recover even if it takes a good part of a season.  North American trees are no strangers to sudden violent winters, as some of our native palms from Oklahoma can testify.  Heck, even that prize rose bush will probably shoot back up from the stem, even if that hardy banana or crepe myrtle did not; plants are pretty resilient and full of surprises.  We Michigan gardeners have reasons, namely November through March, for being impatient, but one of the reasons we are so into plants is because we are also willing to be humbled and enjoy the show.  Plant on!


  1. I lost patience with my evergreen magnolia. It was mostly brittle and pretty darn dead. If it were to eventually sprout back, it would have been an eye-sore. Totally dead dead was my 15-year-old hardy lime (Poncirus trifolia) and one of my japanese maples. Not dead but beyond salvaging was my beloved persian ironwood (Parrotia persica): it couldn't suffer the additional winter abuse after having most of its bark chewed off by my goats a couple years prior. An interesting surprise to me was the large population of zelkovas around Ann Arbor. They came out SO sparse looking, I thought there was no hope, but now they look great. The sophoras did the same thing, but I haven't checked their progress. -- Guerin

  2. My wisteria was mostly bare sticks until Memorial day weekend. I'm so relieved to see it flush with leaves now that I don't mind the lack of flowers.