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!