"Life after the Freeze," by the Whistling Gardener

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.
Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville. Photo courtesy of Sunnyside Nursery.

This column is being reproduced with the permission of Steve Smith, The Whistling Gardener, and owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville.

Winter is over as far as I am concerned. I mowed my lawn this week for the first time, and for me that makes it official. I am totally psyched to get back in the swing of things, especially since January and February were a total loss. The first half of February was too wet and the last half has been too cold.

This week got us into the mid 40’s and it felt almost balmy, which is good for our plants and especially good for us gardeners. March is forecasted to be warmer and wet, but I can live with that after this cold spell we just had.

Speaking of the cold spell, I would like to share some of my observations concerning the effects of the cold weather and what to expect as our gardens come back to life.

As for my first-of-the-month to-do list, it’s pretty much everything that none of us got done in the first two months of the year. You can find it archived on my website at

I think that I mentioned earlier in the year that I was feeling like winter damage from the freezes would be minimal for most of us that lived in the lower elevations. That still seems to be the case.

Virtually all of my broadleaf evergreens, like Fatsia, Aucuba, Daphne, evergreen climbing hydrangeas, and even my tender Taiwanese Schefflera and New Zealand Pseudopanax laetus, seem to be unscathed. There is no sign of leaf burn and that is very reassuring.

Early budding fruit trees like Japanese plums and pears are about to burst open with their bright white flowers and I am not seeing any indication that the buds have been killed. This is not the case for the farmers on the east side that had temps a whole lot colder than us. I am hearing losses of 20% to 30% of buds, which is sad for them and will drive up the price of cherries, apricots, peaches, and plums come summer. The jury is still out on my own Frost peach, but I am keeping my fingers crossed.

The snow is all melted in my yard and all of the hellebores and bulbs that were bent over while in full bloom have now returned to their “full upright position,” as they say on airplanes. Moisture has returned to their stems and they are as perky as ever.

The same is true for those leaves on the rhodies that were all rolled up and bending downward. It’s almost as if they have woken up and are saying “look at me, I am alive and happy.” Those of you in the higher elevations may have to wait another week or two to share us lowlander’s excitement, but it will come, just be patient.

As for my hydrangeas, most of the buds on one look fine and on another are all dead. The difference is the result of me leaving all the old flowers on the one that now has viable buds and getting a little too anal last fall with the other and cutting it back more than I should, which exposed the buds to the elements and they died. I should have known better but I guess I don’t always practice what I preach.

Only time will tell if there is other damage, so don’t get in too much of a hurry to pull stuff out. Do some clean up and see what unfolds, then pay a visit to the garden center for a quick pick-me-up.

Sunnyside will be hosting two free classes – “Summer Blooming Bulbs” Saturday March 10, 2018, at 10:00 am and “Dazzling Dahlias” on Sunday March 11, 2018, at 11:00 am.

Steve Smith is the owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, WA, and can be reached at

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