After the Polar Vortex, What of Spring?

Since 2014, the garden’s first season, I cannot recall a winter when the local temperature fell below 18. Even then, the cold was limited to nighttime. Typically, nighttime temps in December are, at worst, in the mid-30s with occasional lower temps for a few hours at best. The polar vortex altered the cold playbook. This time we had temps as low as 8F with wind chills reaching -7. To top it all off, the cold stayed for 48 hours instead of just overnight. For the first time, I am worried about what spring might bring.

Canna Lilies are subtropical plants that love water. Here (in Zone 7b), the advice for canna owners is to dig up the bulbs and store them over winter. I only considered digging mine up briefly that first season because I saw many types of cannas growing along Atlanta sidewalks without caregivers and doing just fine. When I planted cannas the first year, I wanted peach but settled for orange because that was all I could find at planting time. I expected they would die over winter, hoping to replace them the following spring. There were only three plants (bought on sale at Kroger), so I was okay with letting them go after one season. As it turns out, they returned each year. Actually, they have done much more than simply return. They are so prolific that I have to dig up about 30% of them each spring to keep them out of my neighbors’ driveway. The polar vortex may have ended their reign.

Gardenias put out fragrant white blossoms in spring and summer. In Atlanta, they are evergreens, providing deep green foliage that remains all year.   My entire six-foot diameter bush is now brown with withered, crumpled leaves.

Rosemary was always difficult for me to grow in pots. I always killed it with too much water—even after trying to restrict it. So, when I planted rosemary in the garden, I had little hope for success. Yet, like the cannas, the rosemary quickly grew into an imposing five-foot diameter bush. Each winter, it erupts in beautiful orchid-like lavender flowers. Not anymore—there are no flowers, and many of the branches are shriveled and gray—this hurts.

Finally, there are the pincushion flowers–not only have they survived each winter, but they have also taken the next step and bloomed every January and February for the last seven years. Thanks to the vortex, they, too, are withered and sickly.

I have watched the garden turn brown, and most plants die each winter, and done so without any doubt they would return–not this time. The gardenia looks burnt, the azaleas look questionable, and the creeping Jenny’s typical perky red winter foliage is now lifeless and reddish-brown.

Gardening brings one close to plants. After a while, they are like friends who show up, cheer you, visit for a time, and leave. You know they’ll return and plan for it. But I have never seen the garden like this. All I can think of is which friend might not come back in spring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *