In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
April, 2009
Regional Report

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These crocus in my yard know exactly when they can bloom without getting frosted.

Waiting for Spring

I'm so frustrated, aren't you? I want warm weather desperately, but deep inside I know that it will come. I know that before Mother's Day, flowers will be bursting forth and spring will be here in all its glory.

It's just hard as a gardener to face the 40-degree days with twenty mile-an-hour winds when I have to prune my fruit trees. In spite of the frustration, though, I can rest comfortably knowing the plants know what to do. As eager as I am to see that first daffodil, their physiology tells them to stay closed up until the conditions are right.

Watch the Magnolias
This will be a good lesson to remember. As an example, watch the magnolias this year. Who knows whether we will have another frost? (Our average last frost date is April 18, but that means that fifty percent of the time, we have a frost after that date.) The magnolias in exposed, windswept locations tend to keep their buds tightly closed until we are well past that frost. The ones in protected sites such as next to a warm house or tucked in the ell of a building will open their blossoms earlier and risk getting frosted.

Site Plants According to Nature
This is a great lesson for figuring out how to site our landscape plants. Looking at a plant's native habitat gives us excellent clues as to the conditions in which a plant will thrive. Plants that don't thrive are susceptible to all sorts of disease and pest issues that wouldn't be problems if the plant was properly sited.

Duplicate Natural Conditions
To use the magnolia example, magnolias found in the wild (okay, not in Wisconsin) are found in open fields. They require well-drained soil and full sun. They don't grow in the woods in nature, so if we site them in a sheltered, partially shaded spot, they won't thrive. Magnolias in sheltered sites have their blossoms frosted half the time, and they often have problems with magnolia scale and canker.

Try a Hemlock
Another landscape favorite is the hemlock. These soft evergreens can add a beautiful, graceful element to the landscape, but they are not meant to look like Christmas trees. They naturally grow in the shaded woods, where their form is open and loose. Trying to grow them in full sun and shearing them to a pyramid stresses the tree and attracts pests like the hemlock adelgid. Grow your hemlock tucked in a shady, protected spot and it will love you for it.

Be Your Plants' Steward
Many plants are adaptable as to the conditions they can thrive in, but as a gardener and manager of your landscape, you owe it to your plants to site them well and give them the best chance possible. And, you won't be as frustrated, which is always a good thing.


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