Category Archives: Weather

What to Do for Your Plants When Temperatures Plunge

For many, this winter has been characterized by abnormally mild temperatures punctuated by sudden and sometimes severe cold spells. These swings in temperature can be rough on plants. This is especially true when there is no snow cover. (Snow serves as a blanket to keep plants in the consistently cool and dark conditions that encourage and perpetuate dormancy.) Warm days when there is little to no snow may cause the ground to thaw. The sun’s rays and warming soil signal to plants that spring has arrived, even if the calendar says otherwise. Early flowering plants such as Hellebores, Snowdrops (Galanthus), Crocuses, Daffodils, and Tulips may begin poking up their heads and producing leaves and buds way ahead of schedule. What to do? Here at the farm, our garden staff tends to allow Nature to take its course, but here is some advice from our gardening experts:

  • Hellebores, which are generally the first perennials to flower as spring begins to stir, can handle some fluctuations in temperature, especially if you leave their winter-burned foliage in place to serve as a jacket. (Prune away the brown foliage after bunches of buds appear and spring temperatures begin to assert themselves.)


  • Daffodils are tough early bloomers. Foliage that emerges too soon may get frostbit at the tips but the plants will generally rally and produce their flowers on cue as spring arrives.


  • Several years ago, our Tulip trial garden endured a polar vortex plunge. The plants, many of them already in bud, wilted and sagged terribly in the cold and some stems and leaves developed a desperate watery look, but because the extreme cold was of relatively short duration (less than 24 hours), the plants made it through and were that much more beautiful when they blossomed.


  • For particularly exposed or vulnerable plants (or if you feel you must do something), consider covering them with a layer of Oak leaves and/or Pine boughs. Both serve to trap in some of the cold, which keeps plants dormant until spring. At that point, remove the leaves or boughs and enjoy your blossoms.


  • Some gardeners recommend mulching plants in advance of a temperature plunge to provide protection, but beware: Mulch is as good at trapping in heat as it is protecting from the cold. If you mulch after unseasonably warm days, your plants may continue to grow in what they perceive to be cozy conditions.


  • For larger specimens, such as early flowering shrubs and fruit trees whose buds have begun to swell, burlap or old bedsheets may be gently tossed over them to get them through a sudden cold snap, but beware of doing this in high winds, which could result in breakage.


  • Do not touch plants that have been subject to extreme cold. The frozen tissue of leaves and stems is especially vulnerable to damage. Keep your hands away and hope the plants recover naturally as temperatures rise.



It’s Too Darn Hot!

As the dog days of August grind on and the gardens seem to be steaming in the humid weather, we’re as grateful as ever for the various shade gardens we keep on the property. Set beneath the leafy canopies of mature trees or in the long shadows they cast, these lush, colorful oases provide shelter from the blistering sun, and there’s plenty to interest any gardener.

Shown in the photo above: We love the combination of Athyrium ‘Ghost’ with the dark purple iridescent leaves of Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). Please note that the ferns need to be 2 years old to achieve the height necessary to pair them with the Persian Shield, which is planted each year as an annual in our part of the world.

Shade comes to life with the lively colors of Coleus ‘Bronze Pagoda,’ Hosta ‘Krossa Regal,’ and the chartreuse blades of Hakonechloa ‘All Gold.’

At this time of year, we’re especially pleased to show off the plantings in these gardens, proof positive that shady spots need not be dull. By mixing perennials, annuals and shrubs in these low-light areas, our head gardener Cheryl Whalen and her team mix colors, forms, foliage, and patterns to create a sense of lushness and beauty.

The variegated leaves of Fuchsia ‘Firecracker’ work beautifully with a red-leaved caladium, bicolor impatiens, and a dark-leaved Begonia ‘Whopper Rose with Bronze Leaf.’

Watering these gardens is critical, especially when plants are young and getting started. This is especially true if they’re planted inside the drip line of any tree with dense foliage. (Whenever a tree acts as a giant umbrella, preventing rainfall from getting to the plantings below, this is the condition known as “dry shade.” Few plants thrive in it, although established hostas and epimediums will manage. Others will need water.)

Icy tones are especially cooling in the heat of summer. This fern (Athyrium ‘Ghost’) with frosted foliage looks marvelous alongside the dark, round leaves of Ligularia ‘Britt Marie Crawford.’.

The photos below show a broad variety of shade garden combinations that Cheryl has created in various years. Some of the perennials or shrubs such as hydrangeas, hostas, hakonechloa grass, ligularia, rodgersia, astilbe, and ferns may stay in place, but annuals including fuchsia, impatiens, coleus, and caladiums, and smaller perennials such as heucheras may be changed out from year to year depending on what we’re trialing and what Cheryl finds appealing.

Here’s what one shade garden looked like in early spring. The leaves of Rodgersia, Astilboides tabularis, Podophyllum, Heuchera ‘Caramel’ and columbines are poking through the soil, and Cheryl and her staff have planted colorful Impatiens.

As you retreat to the shady spots in your garden, keep in mind some of these combinations for next year.

Hydrangea Color Fantasy(R) adds its large, deep purple Mophead blossoms to the shady color show. Its companions include two types of coleus, a variegated impatiens, and nonstop flowering Begonia Dragon Wing(R) Pink.

1The pinkish-red leaves of Caladium ‘Florida Cardinal’ add a bright pop of color to shade gardens alongside chartreuse Heucherella ‘Alabama Sunrise,’ a green-leaved hosta, and the needle-like leaves of Asparagus Fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’).

Is There Anything to Do About a Late Freeze?

Large portions of the northeastern United States have experienced a difficult turn in which the normal weather patterns for March and April have been roughly reversed, with a series of soft, warm spring days in March followed by the recent hard frost and snow. As you probably understand, late frost after a warm spell is dangerous to plants whose metabolism has been stimulated to produce tender spring growth. The effects can be damaging to flower buds and even to roots, endangering the survival of some varieties and diminishing the bloom and fruiting of others.

There are two basic rules to minimize damage and get the garden back on track:

Take a careful look at every corner of your garden to understand which plants are at risk.

First, take a careful look at every corner of your garden to understand which plants are at risk. You’ll have no trouble recognizing frozen tissue, which will be either mushy or discolored. Blasted buds may have cracked, split, or simply dropped off their stems. Crowns of perennials may appear dry, or mushy, or discolored, and the new growth at the end of the stems of shrubs may be gray or brown. On woody plants, it’s easy to determine whether an individual branch is damaged by scraping back a small piece of bark to expose the underlying tissue, which will be green if that branch is alive. Hold off scraping until cold weather has passed.

Because damage is difficult to assess with precision, it is very important that this reconnaissance not involve any immediate action with one important exception. If the sequence of freezing and thawing has caused a plant to heave, meaning its roots have been lifted out of the soil and exposed to sun and air, you should immediately replace soil over the roots, gently firming the new soil and then watering it to restore moisture to the tissue. Thereafter, the best medicine is PATIENCE, not extreme measures. It may take a few days, up to a couple of weeks, of normal weather for plants to reset their clocks and start growing again. During this time, you are likely to do more harm than good by actively digging, pruning, weeding, feeding, and all the other forms of nurturing that occur logically to plant lovers.

To determine whether an individual branch is damaged, scrape back a small piece of bark to expose the underlying tissue, which will be green if that branch is alive. Hold off scraping until cold weather has passed.

Second, after about 10 days, serious housekeeping can begin. It will generally be possible to determine which plants have not survived and need to be replaced, which need to be cleaned up by the judicious removal of damaged tissue, and which came through without damage. You may find yourself pruning spent buds off shrubs or fruit trees, meaning a spring without flowers or fruit, and occasionally conducting last rites for longtime favorites in your gardens. Rugged individuals like Daffodils, Tulips, Peonies, Daylilies and Hostas rarely succumb (one of the many reasons they are so popular), meaning you won’t be starting from scratch.

Rugged individuals like Daffodils, Tulips, Peonies, Daylilies and Hostas rarely succumb to a late frost.

Over many years in the difficult and changeable climate of New England, we have dealt with many of these seasonal surprises, and in every case, the disappointments were substantially offset by the opportunity to try new ideas, solutions, and inspirations. We are, of course, available to assist in every possible way, including the prompt delivery of whatever replacement plants you may need. We will be making similar replacements in our own gardens.