Don’t let frost put a damper on your gardening spirit

I’m nearly out of cheerful, optimistic, silver-lined ways of viewing this past week of hard-hitting winter weather.
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (Nietzche). I surely hope that statement will prove true for some of those nearly-dead plants.

Like a good gardening soldier, I read the weather forecast and brought most of my potted plants indoors.

My living room looks like a ghetto version of the Rainforest Cafe. Bringing in a load of groceries is like swashbuckling through the brambles.

Good thing, though, because the plants outdoors are sad sights.

Leading up the arctic weather was an unusually warm autumn. In my yard, winter bulbs had already bolted.

To shield myself from pain, I only looked briefly in the yard. This was enough time to notice that the long, green leaves of freesia have become freeze-dried. I shudder to think what I’ll find when I lift off the sheets that cover the young lemon tree.

Life after death

This week I chatted with Joe Connell, farm adviser for the county. Our talk was primarily about agricultural crops.

Yet, Joe also keeps a garden and said many of his plants look like they have melted.

His advice was to be patient and see what provides new life next spring.

Many people will be tempted to get out there with a shovel and throw disappointments onto the compost pile.

But you just never know.

Joe said plants will have better luck if you start a regular water routine, perhaps once every two weeks. You can stop if it ever starts to rain.

Plants get doubly stressed when hit with both freezing temperatures and lack of natural moisture, he explained.

Now that I’m thinking about this, it is kind of fun to see something miraculously revive after being left for dead.

When I moved into my house 17 years ago, my friend Shelley had a pitiful looking ficus tree in an outdoor pot.

This wasn’t a house-warming gift, this was a challenge.

The ficus plant is funny — any change in environment can cause a rebellion, and the plant will drop the majority of its leaves. The change could be as simple as moving it to a new window.

I didn’t make much of an effort. Yet, it was easy to squirt the pot with a hose every once in a while, and over time it revived. I think I also gave the comeback kid a new pot and some fresh soil.

The ficus tree is now three feet tall and I might as well decorate it for Christmas; it’s already in the middle of the living room.

Reporter Larry Mitchell and I shared a shelf between our desks where we each tended a few house plants. When Larry retired, he left me a gift of a prayer plant.

The plant was not doing well, and I felt like it might very well be a test of my green thumb.

At one point, only a single nub stuck up from the soil.

Sure enough, I remembered to water it every once in a while and now it has four leaves. I can’t wait for Larry to visit the office so I can show off.

Of course, both of these surprises had little to do with any skill I possess, and more to do with the fighting spirit that plants possess — something we can all admire.

Maybe this will be the same with the plants in our yard.

In the meantime, we might as well go out and buy more bulbs. Next spring when some of our plants have stunted growth, at least we can all enjoy a multitude of bulbs from February to April.

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