Silly Rabbit, I’m coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs!


I’ve always prefered Cocoa Krispies to Cocoa Puffs. Maybe it’s because of a spring ritual I endure every year. Walk around in the landscape in early spring after a hard winter, and you’ll see neatly arranged piles of rabbit “evacuation”. Hungry rabbits take a “withdrawl” from your “hortfolio” in winter and leave a “deposit” of Cocoa Puffs at the base of the plant. They seem particularly fond of burning bush plants. Good reason to replace your burning bush with an Itea I say. Regardless, most plants will recover but you lose a number of years worth of growth. These “natures pruners” in many cases will cut off the flow to the upper portion of the plant with the damage they inflict causing the plant to start over from near the base. Go to your calendar, flip to the month of October and write in a reminder to protect valuable plants with some inexpensive chicken wire wraps next year. Make sure to use the chicken wire from the base of the plant extending up at least a couple feet. Remember, rabbits walk on top of the snow to do their damage. If they prune a burning bush, big deal, but a valued specimen plant you’ve babied along for years?!…… will make you coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs!

Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it

knoxville-042.jpgRemember last April? I remember the damage across the eastern US as snow, ice and record cold temperatures wreaked havoc with plant material. Devistating cold did significant damage from Michigan to as far south as Georgia and Alabama. These extreme cold temperatures followed an early spring warmup in March that forced flowering and tender growth. Dormancy was broken and there was no turning back. Now it’s “crunch time” (see story below) for this spring. We already know that a slow gradual “wake up” is occuring this year. Once dormancy is broken, let’s remember……..let’s hope…….that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Nothing wrong with being a Pansy

knoxville-195.jpgIf the Junior High bully called you a Pansy, take heart, you could consider it a compliment. Pansies are colorful, entertaining, adaptable, healthy (they’re edible!) and very very tough. Sound like quite desirable characteristics to me. These colorful characters are ubiquitous in winter throughout the South. I took the picture above of pansies and pink tulips at an entrance to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Here in the North they can be planted in the fall and survive under the cover of snow. Pansies or Violas are great to plant in spring too when you’re itching to get out in the garden but the danger of frost hasn’t passed.

Pansies or Violas are basically the same thing. The pansy’s latin name is Viola X Wittrockiana. Today’s Pansies and Violas can thank an old friend in the landscape, Viola Tricolor or better known as “Johnny Jump Ups” as the main parents for their breeding. Today virtually any color from red to black and bi-colors are available due to the work of breeders over the past 10 years.

Do yourself a favor and plant some pansies early this spring. You’ll find pansies with clear faces and “blotched” faces. They’ll reward you with hundreds of colorful blooms and the satisfaction of knowing you were, and still are, much smarter than that bully.

Crunch Time! (April Madness in the landscape)

hydrangea-heaven.jpgBasketball “crunch time” refers to the last few minutes of playing time in a tight contest. We tend to see these “crunch time” moments during the madness of March. Crunch time also refers to a deadline, a completion date, a miss or hit on a timeline. It seems this phrase is not very old, with a number of potential origins. My favorite origin for the phrase, and I’ll choose to believe it because of my love for history, would be Winston Churchill. It seems Winston had been quoted in The Daily Telegraph upon occasion using the phrase during World War II. Regardless of whether Winston truly originated the phrase, it’s easy to picture him with a cigar in one hand, a Scotch in the other telling Roosevelt it’s “crunch time” for US involvement to help defeat the Nazi’s. As it turned out, the Japanese took care of any crunch time convincing Winston may have to do with their actions on December 7, 1941.

So when do we find out how well our hydrangeas are going to do this year? When is “crunch time” for blooming shrubs and trees subject to the unpredictable and variable weather of the north? Many people worry about winter weather and the damage it can do to some of our favorite landscape plants. Hardiness zones are developed to catagorize plants on their minimum temperature tolerance.

Most winter damage is due to rabbits, deer and salt damage. Cold weather is not usually a problem in the dead of winter because the plants are dormant, inactive. Provided they did not enter the winter season stressed out from poor care the previous summer and fall, they generally ride out the cold months of winter in a state of hibernation. Snow actually helps by providing insulation in winter and moisture in spring when it melts.

It’s “crunch time” in the landscape at the end of winter when some warm days begin to break the dormancy of a winter’s nap. If there is a quick warm up,buds swell followed by tender leaf emergence and flowering. Dormancy is a reversible stage (thank goodness for spring). If a cold snap or freezing temperatures hit after the early warm up, that’s when we see serious “winter” damage in the landscape.

The picture above is of me with a bed of Macrophylla Hydrangeas in August. These “mop” hydrangeas produce this season’s blooms on the previous year’s growth. This August display would not have happened if in April after a warm up the buds swelled only to be frozen (like April 2007).

If we see a gradual warm up in spring 2008, it’s healthier for the plants even though we are impatient and want it to be 75 degrees now! If the plants wake up gradually and we can avoid a deep freeze in April/May, it could be a good year for everything from Hydrangeas to Cherries! Stay tuned, you could say the next few weeks are “crunch time” in the landscape!

The green green grass of home……

green-turf.jpgThe dictionary lists the word conscious as being aware, awake to one’s surroundings. I have noted with special interest comments from those in our armed forces who have returned from Iraq commenting on the surroundings. Many note how much they missed “green grass” and how green grass is so much better than “dirt and rocks.” We’ve missed “green grass” here at home too for the past 5 months. Snow and ice have replaced turf, and grass is something many take for granted until it’s gone. At that point you realize the lawn is part of our culture, a way of life, our surroundings. When grass is missing for some during a tour of duty serving our country, or simply and less importantly covered by snow for 5 straight months, you’re conscious of how much you enjoy the green green grass of home.

We can thank the British for our consciousness of the lawn and for making it a way of life. Across England lawns were a focus of great gardens and for their “sport” like cricket, croquet, bowls and of course soccer and rugby. I know a fine young man from England who refers to my lawn as a “pitch.” It was green pitch that followed the English around the world, the Union Jack meant “lawn and order” to our surroundings. Fortunately when the upstart colonists threw their tea overboard in protest, they did not abandon their lawns in protest. Instead Americans embraced the love of the lawn and through the years traveled at the speed of “ground” in making lawns a loved part of our home turf. It was an Englishman who invented the helical bladed lawnmower from what I’ve read, again the British on the “cutting hedge.”  It was the British (Green coats, not Red coats) who “planted” the seed of conscious that lives today as the green green grass of home.