Ron Kujawski | Garden Journal: Frigid temps take toll on buds


The question I get most often these days, besides "Do you always look so grubby?", concerns the impact of abnormally frigid temperatures on the mornings of April 5 and 6 to plants in landscapes and gardens.

Clearly, many plants suffered. Perhaps the most serious economic damage was to fruit trees. Reports from nearby orchardists in the Hudson River Valley indicate 100-percent kill of flower buds on peaches and apricots. It is probably the same for much of interior New England. Meanwhile, at the University of Massachusetts orchards in Belchertown, Mass., estimates are that 50 to 75 percent of apple buds and more than 75 percent of flower buds on sweet cherry trees are dead. Some of this damage may also be attributed to the record-setting lows of Febr. 12 to 15. For sure, the failure of some forsythia varieties to flower this month is due to that cold period.

The more recent frigid spell quickly brought to demise the emerging blossoms on early flowering trees and shrubs, including magnolias, especially star magnolia, "Leonard Messel" magnolia, forsythia, flowering quince and ornamental cherry. Also noticeable was damage to emerging foliage on certain trees and shrubs, most often in the form of leaf tip burn and drooping leaves.

The damage to herbaceous plants was most noticeable on early spring bulbs. Bent over under the weight of snow and then softened by frigid temperatures, the flower stems of my daffodils left the blossoms face down and kissing the ground. Hopefully, we all can kiss the coldest weather "good bye" and look forward to normal spring conditions. However, be aware that some of the damage to leaf and flower buds, roots and shoots of woody and herbaceous plants may not become apparent for days or weeks.

Chore list

What is apparent is that there are many gardening tasks ahead, including:

• Start checking ornamental cherry and crabapple trees for Eastern Tent Caterpillar. This leaf-devouring critter usually begins to hatch when forsythia is in bloom. As mentioned above, few forsythia will bloom this year, but that won't stop tent caterpillars from hatching. Use the five-fingered squish method to destroy the small nests or apply a product containing the naturally occurring bacterium, Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), while the caterpillars are still small.

• Rejuvenate rhubarb by digging up and dividing the crowns. Immediately replant the divisions in well-drained soil, enriched with compost or other organic matter. Reduced vigor of growth and smaller than normal leaf stems are signs that rhubarb needs dividing.

• Plant potatoes. Four pounds of seed potato should be enough for a family of four if not planning to store any spuds for winter consumption. Normally, each seed potato or potato section is spaced about 10 to 12 inches apart in a shallow trench. However, with an early variety, such as "Red Norland," I space the sections six inches apart since I only grow these to harvest as "new" potatoes, that is, immature thin-skinned potatoes that are great when boiled and tossed with butter and chopped parsley. The closer spacing yields many small potatoes.

• Set out seedlings of cold hardy vegetables, including onions, cabbage, broccoli, and lettuce. Wait until the end of the month or early May to transplant cauliflower, since exposure to cold temperatures in early spring can lead to premature and small heads.

• Sow seeds of hardy annual flowers in the garden. Sweet pea, sweet alyssum, snapdragon, stock, verbena, annual phlox, and bachelor's button are some that tolerate cool soils. Plant some in prepared beds for use later as a source of cut flowers.

Pittsfield Beautiful

Kudos to Pittsfield Beautiful on their newly updated website. Check out the website ( and see the incredible work this group has done to make Pittsfield a city of flowers.


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