Nothing unleashes a gardener’s urge to replenish a garden or refill flower beds and pots than the earliest sign of springtime. And after this winter’s unusual string of ice, sleet and snow across the state, it might be tempting to rush those shopping trips to nurseries and garden centers to commence the season.
But for the next few weeks, cautious gardeners are waiting to see what plants, trees and shrubs made it through the winter and what didn’t. Under those pitiful brown leaves might be some signs of life, experts say.
Dr. Lelia Kelly of the MSU Extension Service is special advisor to the Mississippi Nursery and Landscape Association. She said that as bad as winter-beaten plants and trees may look now, don’t panic. “I caution people about doing anything on suspected cold damaged plants until the spring growth starts,” she said. Plants can be very resilient and tough, she said. “You may think something’s dead but it may bud out in the spring.”
At Pine Hills Nursery in Pass Christian Polly Cuevas, an MNLA board member, already had customers by mid February asking about replacements for their delicate trees. “We are seeing some interest already, for instance, with citrus trees which are more tender,” she said. Things might not be as bad as they seem, Cuevas said. “We’re not going to know for a little while because some things may survive.”
Kelly said recent mild winters may have led home gardeners to push their luck by planting plants that are outside their safe growing zone. Banana or palm trees come to mind.
“Some of these types of plants are pushing the zone a little bit, particularly in the northern part of the state,” she said.
Palm trees heavily damaged by the cold seem to be an early casualty.
“Some are going to survive but some won’t,” Cuevas said.
Nursery owners such as Cuevas have to keep a close eye on weather to protect their livelihoods and investments.
“They watch the weather like a farmer,” Kelly said.
Cuevas said, “We do grow a lot of our own material in our greenhouses and we had to do a lot of heating. Luckily there was no damage but we had to stay on top of it.”
Cold weather can delay plant growth, but Cuevas said with the recent sunshine the plants at Pine Hills are starting to catch up.
“Normally we’re geared up for the first of March but it may be mid March or so,” she said. “Things that can be planted now such as trees and shrubs are available. The more tender plants will be readily available by mid March.”
Mark Terkanian of Natchez Trace Greenhouses, a wholesaler in Kosciusko, said this winter’s extreme cold was a contrast to the past few winters, which were warmer.
“We hadn’t had a winter like this since 1994 or ‘95,” he said.
No matter the weather, Terkanian does the same thing every year in his greenhouses.
“We fill all our production space that we have for every spring,” he said.
Some years he sells more perennials, and some years not so many. He expects this may be one of those good years.
“My guess is it will be a little bit brisker on perennials that people want to replace,” Terkanian said.
The return of spring means full parking lots at nurseries, and this year may bring more traffic.
“Whenever it’s a really bad winter, people are sick of the weather and are ready to go outside and do something,” Terkanian said.