I was talking to our local postmaster this morning about the unexpected week-long freezing temps at night, and the fact that there was surprisingly little damage, and she said, "It's because of the light of the moon." That's one I hadn't heard before. I never know how much "old time wisdom" about gardening is rooted in good science and how much is unsupported or coincidental observations handed down through the ages, but it's interesting to hear what the old gardeners pass down. (The postmaster is not an old gardener; she's a local countryman who gardens at her mother's property.) What did sustain freeze damage among the herbaceous plants was the daylilies. Their foliage looks pretty bad, but they'll bloom okay, and they won't suffer any long-term damage.
No way was I expecting that long of a cold spell. It's normal to get one-night freezes in March - and sometimes even in April - but not a long spell of contiguous freezing nights. But then, it's also really bizarre to have a February without long spells of night freezes like we had this year. Cooler temp crops are often planted some weeks before the expected average last day for a frost, which in this area is April 10, and so I thought nothing of sowing carrots, peas, chinese cabbages, lettuces and other salad greens in the first week of March since last year was so warm early and for a long time, and February this year made me think it might even be moreso.
What surprised me in the garden was the tarragon. It seems like such a tender plant. Apparently it's not, as it's one of the plants that stays green all winter, even through the freezing without being covered. I planted this from a nursery purchase in the spring of 2015, and it was then about the size of that sprig in the lower left hand corner of the picture. I didn't even realize it would spread. Last year, due to the copious amount of rain, it grew very lanky, and I thought surely that would make it susceptible to a winter freeze, but, nope. I cut it back, and it just keeps on going.
After three times of trying to keep some light mulch on the newly seeded beds the first of this month and having it blown away by the high winds, and then getting a week of night time freezes, I was feeling nervous about the prospect of having wasted both time and seeds. Thankfully, in the last few days, I see peas and lettuces coming up, and today, tiny little chinese cabbages, so I'm feeling hopeful that the carrots, celery and shiso will soon follow. I've been watering those beds since we haven't had any rain to speak of. Luckily, I have a source of water near the garden and can drag a hose around to all the plots if needed. The first year, I did have to hand water a good deal - or at least I thought I did - but the second year, I didn't need to do much watering. Last year, other than watering-in newly seeded plots, the rain was plentiful and I didn't need to water anything. In fact, the rain was too plentiful, and some things, like my cucumbers and onions drowned.
Yesterday I went to Vintage Hill Farm nursery in Franklin, Missouri, and wanted (at least) one of everything. Their greenhouses are full of wonderful things, but for once, I resisted the urge and only bought a few herbs to put in a large pot on the patio. Their plants looked a lot better than my seed starts, naturally, but mine are coming along. I've already got a number of seedlings spending day and night outdoors, in a protected spot against the south side of the house. I worry over them, but I think they'll be okay. Of course, I'll be going back to Vintage Hill, so the temptation to buy more things than I can take care of is not necessarily past.
One of the plants I purchased is a Salvia called Golden Pineapple Sage. While it's not something you'd eat, the leaves actually smell like pineapple. It's supposed to have a fire engine red flower, but the picture doesn't look like it will be something particularly attractive. I don't usually care for yellow-colored foliage, but I thought it might brighten up a large pot of all green herbs. (The color on this photo isn't accurate - it's actually quite yellow.)
That's the back of the Salvia tag. I've never seen that admonition on a plant tag before. Perhaps because I don't look closely at the backs of the tags, but possibly because that would be a very difficult prohibition to enforce, so why waste the ink.
I also got a Patchouli plant.
I'd never seen one offered before. Its leaves do indeed smell like patchouli. I'm sure we won't be eating that. At least, that is, if my mother doesn't think it's something else. Last year she put cilantro in a dish calling for parsley. I think her smeller is broken. The patchouli plant doesn't look like something else you might eat, though, does it? I think we're safe, but maybe I shouldn't put it in the herb pot. I'll have to think about that.
I've also got my two seed starting trays in the cellar full with a second round of plantings and a first round of seedlings under lights. The first round of Zinnias have a lot of dead tissue on the cotyledons and first set of true leaves. The same problem is on the chinese cabbages I started indoors. I haven't had this happen before, so I don't know what the problem is. The Zinnias seem to be coming out of it, but the cabbages are not growing at all.
Damaged Zinnia seedlings
I thought it might be a problem with the potting mix. I'm going to have to be sure to have enough seed starter mix (which is finer than regular potting soil and typically doesn't contain actual soil) to be able to get seeds started in the winter. I bought what WalMart had in February, which was MiracleGro seed starting soil, so I figured it would be fine - in both senses. When I opened it, I was surprised to see that it looked like regular potting soil - much coarser than I expected. If the mix was the problem, it didn't affect the Black Dahlia seeds I planted. They took off and grew quickly. The mixed Dahlia seeds I planted at the same time (that I got from the same seller as the Black Dahlias) haven't even come up.
Black Dahlia seedlings
It could also have been the seeds themselves, so I'll compare the Chinese cabbages that are coming up in the garden and a second indoor seeding of Zinnias and mixed Dahlias that are just coming up in a different brand of seed starter soil that's now available in the store. The Lisianthus and Jersey Wakefield cabbage seedlings I planted in that same mix are doing fine.
Jersey Wakefield cabbage seedlings
I seeded my intended poppy bed out in the wildflower garden early - on the sixth of February when it was still Spring - and was beginning to despair of them coming up since there have been volunteers in the vegetable garden where I previously had some poppies since the 17th, but I was excited to see a couple of days ago tons of tiny little sprouts coming up where I planted them. I thought I'd done a pretty good job of scattering them, but after whatever wind and little rain there was, they seem to be mostly clumped together in rivulet lines, so I'll still have to thin them. But, hooray! They're up!
Last year I planted some Dianthus that came along as a free pack with some other seed I'd ordered, and the foiliage was lush, but they never flowered. They made it through the winter, but they have a somewhat different look. I'd cut them back except for a few stems that weren't damaged by the cold, so I'm going to be interested to see if the plants revert to all looking like those few elongated stems from last season, or even if they flower this year. If they don't, they'll have to become compost.
One of the larger two Victoria rhubarb plants did sustain some freeze damage, but I cut it back quite a bit and I don't expect it to have any trouble coming out of it. The other one that I covered is growing great. They're both flowering, and those heads will have to come off. At least, that's what the literature says, and I always do it. The idea is that the plant will put its energy into producing seed once the flowers emerge and stop putting it into the stems.
My little seedling rhubarbs are not doing much. I hope they decide to grow faster when the weather turns warmer, but I'm concerned there's something I don't know about growing rhubarb from seed, because last summer I tried planting some seed, and they never got any bigger than these I started this winter are now. I looked at a video about growing them from seed, and the guy growing them said they'll stop making much progress if they are outgrowing the pot, but mine still have plenty of soil room. I won't give up yet, but I do feel discouraged, since these seedlings are varieties that are supposed to have very red stems (Holstein and Cherry Red), and that's what I'm looking for.
Top row: Kent Beauty ornamental oregano, Tutti Fruitti lupine; Middle 2 rows: rhubarb; Bottom row: Jersey Wakefield cabbage
Here's looking toward a new vegetable growing season and hopefully, some summer cut flowers, too.