After a few weeks of cold, gloomy, wet weather, when there was little to draw us outdoors, it was fun to go looking for surprises in the landscape this week.
They were there, too.
Lovely little flowers such as winter honeysuckle opened to reveal their lovely scent right on time. Hardy ferns such as the reliable Autumn looked fresh as a spring day, even though the fronds had emerged many months ago.
Plus, there are the surprises. Camellias that hunkered down and kept their buds closed tightly through the coldest weeks are now starting to open again, a joyful sight. I am particularly impressed by the beautiful Lady Clare camellia, whose first buds opened in early November and continued into December. Some open blooms were lost to the deep freeze, but the buds survived without damage. They began to open a couple of weeks ago, showing no sign they ever endured those very cold nights. I was surprised they held up so well.
Perhaps an even bigger surprise is how well most things, including broad-leaved evergreens, stood up to the very cold temperatures. Some browning of the edges of leaves such as viburnums appears alarming at first but should not cause worry. Fresh growth this spring will overcome it. It might worry you to see these brown edges, but if you start cutting on spring-flowering plants, you will likely lose flower buds that should open normally and on time. That would be a bad surprise.
These survivors show that we got away pretty well despite the temperatures below 10 degrees. That is largely because of the landscape plants being in full dormancy at the time. This is so different from the freeze that occurred last April, when many plants, notably hydrangeas, had broken dormancy, were starting to grow and suffered mightily from temperatures that were merely in the low-20s. Covering the plants with bed sheets proved helpful and worth the effort in protecting tender foliage and buds those few nights.
Fescue lawns are getting ready to break dormancy as well and can benefit, starting at mid-February, from lawn fertilizer suited for cool-season lawns. The fescue grass starts to grow surprisingly early in the Piedmont and needs fertilizer for good growth through the spring.
If you have bare spots in the lawn, give them attention with a bit of seeding and fertilizer as well. If you are working on bare spots, remember to dig up the area with your shovel to make it loose and give seeds a place to lodge cozily and sink the new, tiny roots, another nice surprise for spring. Throwing grass seed on hard, unprepared ground is not very productive.
Q. My Boston fern, kept indoors, seems to have had a bad winter. I think it may have outgrown the pot. What should I do?
A. The growing season is just ahead, so it would be good to transplant that fern into a larger pot now. Make the new pot about 2 inches bigger in diameter than the present one. Use fresh potting soil and keep it watered until it is warm enough to put outside for the summer. Trim off any brown or disheveled fronds when you re-pot it.