Our topsy-turvy weather this year seemed absolutely out of character for Northeast Ohio, until I read the almanac from May 12 last year. To quote:
“Does the weather seem even a bit odder than usual this year? I would say it is now official: our world is truly turned upside down. According to the National Weather Service, at least in terms of average high temperatures, March was actually warmer than April in Northeast Ohio. This was true for Cleveland, Akron/Canton and Mansfield, with Cleveland being the most unusual with average March highs of 61.3 and average April highs of 58.8 degrees. Ah, well, as Mark Twain quipped: ‘Climate is what we expect, weather is what we get.’ ”
So, it may or may not be comforting, but the up-and-down spring of 2013 is another case of “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” One thing you can say about this year, though, is that the intermittent periods of retro coolness have resulted in long seasons of bloom. Forsythias and crab apples had long reigns, as have dogwoods and now lilacs. As long as you avoided serious frost events in your garden, the sights and aromas this season were world-class.
Another plant that is putting on quite a show and is quite evident in many Northeast Ohio gardens is creeping phlox, as noted in our weekly Buckeye Yard and Garden Line newsletter last week (bygl.osu.edu).
Perennial phlox (Phlox subulata)
When creeping phlox is in bloom in landscapes and gardens, it sells like hotcakes. Garden centers quickly run out of stock in the spring when it’s blooming but after that, well, it’s not the easiest plant to sell. People can’t help but notice this in gardens and landscapes when masses of colorful blooms cover the ground.
Blooming right now in Northeast Ohio, this plant’s lovely purple, white, pink or maroon flowers provide an outstanding traffic-stopping carpet of color. Be sure to get a close-up view of the flower as well because depending upon the cultivar, there are various little nuances that make them even more stunning. The individual flower petals are distinctly notched and sometimes have a dot of different color at the base.
Creeping phlox grows to around 4 to 6 inches tall and about 2 feet wide. It makes an excellent ground cover, border, rock garden or accent plant.
Plant it in full sun or partial shade and in well-drained soil as it does not like wet soil. Creeping phlox tolerates hot dry summers, and it also tolerates deer feeding.
It will spread and last a long time in your garden. After it finishes blooming, shear the dead flowers and a little of the foliage to encourage branching and new, denser growth. This tends to rejuvenate the foliage and the plant will look pretty decent as a ground cover during the summer months. It also has a tendency to be semi-evergreen in the winter months.
An adage wise to remember is “pay me now or pay me later.” This is certainly true of tree pruning. Pruning cuts should be made carefully, not leaving stubs and not flush with the trunk or large branch. Cut instead just to the outside of the branch collar.
The practice of not making careful cuts and simply topping the tree often seems attractive, since those who do it often offer “bargain” prices. In the end, though, this only leads to the trees’ plant growth hormones producing weak growth that causes greater problems down the road, including more pruning and often tree removal.
Prithee, take me to the crabs
Shakespeare said it, but that is only one part of the story right now. Each week, each day, each hour brings something new.
Increase your chances of being amazed. You cannot experience the wonders of springtime unless you immerse yourself in landscape and woodland.
Enjoy the pillared cones of male sweetgum flowers with the dangling female flowers and then fruits below, complete with newly emerging star-shaped leaves. Note the miniature tulip-shaped leaves of Liriodendron tulipifera just as they come out of the buds, the tiny bass viol golden raintree leaves as they emerge, and look upward at the other angels of the Aesculus genus (which also includes buckeyes), as horse chestnut leaves stand out against the bluing sky. The riots of spring continue.
Jim Chatfield is a horticultural educator with Ohio State University Extension. If you have questions about caring for your garden, write: Jim Chatfield, Plant Lovers’ Almanac, Ohio State University Extension, 1680 Madison Ave., Wooster, OH 44691. Email email@example.com or call 330-466-0270. Please include your phone number if you write.