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Oh yes, the silver linning

Okay everybody, let's all chime in together in four-part harmony and sing the praises of our delightful spring weather. Hasn't it been just glorious, the weeks after blessed weeks of non-stop precipitation and perpetual overcast? Just when I think it is finally going to warm up an be nice we get another cold front blowing in, the daytime temps drop down to the low 40s and the nights border on freezing. Let me tell you, while this is hard on the plants, it is murder on the gardeners.

Oh, I know what you are thinking; have I already forgotten April 12, the one and only day of spring we have had this year? (Or should I say summer since it was in the 70s that day). Yes, April 12 was delightful but come on people; one day can't begin to compensate for this incessant barrage of cold weather. Enough is enough. I am so past ready for shorts and tee shirts that I can't even find the words to express my frustration.

Would somebody please turn on the sunshine?

Well believe it or not, despite the exasperation we are all feeling, there is a silver lining in amongst all this cold and bleak weather. The cooler temperatures have essentially put plants into a state of suspended animation which has resulted in much longer blooming periods for our early flowering trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs. (We won't discuss the fact that we too are in a state of suspended animation.)

My Cornelian Cherry has been in flower of almost 8 weeks now, normally a 2-3 week bloomer. The ubiquitous Thundercloud Plums which started showering us with their cotton candy-like blooms in early March are just now fading away. And the daffodils, snow drops and other early bulbs have seemed to hold on to their happy faces for eternity. I think this has been the most delightful spring for bulbs I have experienced in years.

Also, many of the early spring blooming perennials have been in flower for 6-8 weeks now, normally only showing color for 3-4 weeks. Arabis, Aubretia, Candy Tuft and Creeping Phlox are just a few that come to mind. If this cold pattern continues you will see the same effect on the next wave of bloomers. It's as though the whole spring process had gone into slow motion. Everything is blooming in the proper sequence; it's just delayed a bit and is lasting longer. I don't see any real problem with this as far as the plants are concerned except maybe where pollination is required for setting fruit. Plums, pears and cherries that bloom the earliest could possibly have a poor fruit set this year due to the fact that the poor bees a freezing to death and are consequently not out flitting about from flower to flower. Even our native Mason Bees that are usually out in force in March have been slow to wake up this year. On the other hand, since the trees have been in bloom for so many more days than usual, maybe the bees have been able to get around after all. I guess only time will tell.

The other benefit to gardeners from the cooler temperatures is that trees have remained dormant longer and therefore a lot easier to transplant. Most garden centers have their bare root trees planted up by the end of March because they are leafing out and actively growing. It is a full three weeks past the end of March and we still have trees that are fully dormant, barely showing signs of life. Some days I wonder if they are ever going to leaf out. As a side note though, you might have some plants in your garden that haven't leafed out yet either. The combination of the cold spring coupled with all the rain which has made the soils waterlogged will always slow down spring growth. Be patient and your plants should eventually show signs of life.

So while this long bloom season and extended opportunity to transplant shrubs and trees may seem like a small consolation to this insufferable spring weather, it is never the less something positive we can hang our hat on. And isn't that what gardening is all about any way, accentuating the positive, being eternally optimistic and always looking for that silver lining.

Steve Smith is owner of Sunnyside Nursery in Marysville, a retail garden center that is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. You can reach Steve at 425-334-2002 or online at

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