You may have noticed that trees and shrubs seem slow to wake up this year. You are not mistaken. Temperatures have been cool, and particularly night time temperatures have been chilly. More drastically, a snow storm clobbered the region just as tender leaves and flowers were budding out. Temperatures dropped from the 50s to the teens overnight. This obliterated tender new growth just as plants were awakening from their winter slumber.
You may be wondering if your trees and shrubs are going to make it. Probably. Most trees and shrubs that are adaptable for our climate have defense mechanisms to deal with precisely this situation. Amazingly, trees and shrubs have ‘latent’ buds, or leaf and flower buds that remain dormant or suppressed. When the regular growth got frosted, a hormonal response triggered the latent buds to kick into action! You may notice new leaves and flowers, although perhaps sparse, starting to appear on your stunted trees.
Now that things are heating up you should see trees recovering normally. We likely won’t get the flower show we anticipate and adore, but your trees shall survive to put on their magnificent displays in successive years.
What can you do to help your trees recover? You should always be paying attention to your trees’ water and nutrient needs in order to cultivate happy, healthy trees. Trees in excellent health and vigor can usually withstand whatever ailments and environmental stressors that nature can throw their way. Trees that are struggling due to lack of sufficient water or nutritional support can be badly beaten and may expire without the necessary resources to recover.
Trees need moisture in the soil in order to push out new roots and to extract water and nutrients from the soil. Roots begin to grow long before you see any leaves or flowers growing on the branches, and often before you turn on your irrigation systems each spring. You may need to drag out the hoses and hand water. Even if sprinklers are turned on it’s imperative to make sure that moisture is penetrating deeply into the root zone.
Having said that, be sure not to over-water! Roots also exchange gasses with the soil and this can’t be achieved if the ground is consistently saturated. The key is to give them a good soaking when you water, but then give them some time to drain and somewhat dry out. Temperatures and precipitation fluctuate wildly in the spring so use your water gauges and try to get some understanding of what’s happening deep into the root zone.
Just like us hairless monkeys, trees need a healthy diet and nutrients to produce the cells that make leaves, flowers, and other structural tissues. Trees have a remarkable ability to extract nutrients from the soil and from the air, but supplemental fertilizers may be required to provide your plants with everything they need to thrive. Trees need copious amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, plus micro-nutrients like iron, magnesium, zinc, sulfur, and calcium. Stay out of the big box stores and consult your local garden center professionals for fertilizer recommendations.
Try not to get discouraged if plants don’t pull through a tough winter. I remind clients all the time that if you look around our open spaces the only plants that like to grow here are a mix of grasses, sage bushes, yucca, and perhaps some prickly pear cactus. With a little care and cultivation, your favorite trees and plants from around the world can grow here for future generations to enjoy!