Ode to a Frozen Azalea Bloom

The early springtime weather got me again.

I have a challenging yard – lots of shady hardwood trees, crappy soil, too big… Foundation plants, perennials (until you can get enough growing to divide and transplant), and summer flowering annuals are expensive!  I end up never buying the quantity I need to properly fill an area in my yard, because my yard is so friggin big (it’s only 3/4 of an acre, but gardening wise, on a budget, that’s HUGE), I would need $200 worth of plants just to cover one small bed and it would still look sparse and sad.

I have spent 14 years clearing vines, amending soil, buying plants, dividing plants, and killing plants. I swear, for every two plants I buy, one dies, because when the temperatures hit 100 degrees for 30 days straight and you have no sprinkler system, you end up giving up the ghost. Because the hardwoods suck up all the water that does happen to fall, and I can’t really afford to have the trees taken down. Because the soil is root-filled, sandy/clay crappity crap crap dirt that needs to be amended by a dump-truck-load full of decent soil.

I have, seriously, spent thousands of dollars and taken years off my life battling copperheads, bone-jarring roots, poison ivy, deer, zika-carrying mosquitos, chiggers, yellowjackets, grubs and horror-movie reminiscent ant colonies, in an effort to make my yard look somewhat less sad than it did when we bought our house.

Through all of my efforts, springtime is the most bloomy time of year for me. With much of the property being heavily shaded, it’s tough to get really showy flowers in the summer and spring is almost the only time of year in which I have any serious color.

My azaleas, oh my azaleas. They are beautiful. If I can keep the deer away from the buds, fertilize regularly, mulch, do a handstand and then a cartwheel five times a year at exactly 11:23 pm on the night after the full moon, they will bloom huge, fuchsia formosa azalea blooms with pretty, jaunty little speckles on the petals.

So it really sucks when we have an early spring.  Oh yes, it’s all fun and games when we have two weeks worth of 75 degree weather in February and post pictures of ourselves on Facebook sitting at an outdoor cafe sipping sweet tea to make our northern friends and family jealous.  Very snarky, very snarky indeed. But the cold always comes back to haunt us. Always.

You see, this February in North Carolina, everything bloomed early. Like at least 3 – 4 weeks early. My forsythia, daffodils, crocus, redbud – all blooming from early to mid February. My formosa azaleas, at the beginning of March, were juuuuust about to pop. Some of the buds were still pretty tightly closed and the deer had only gotten to some of them. A good number of them were there, ready to go and they were going to be spectacular.

And then we had the cold front. Ahh, the cold front, wasn’t it cute? A nice little temperature drop from 75 degrees to 25 degrees won’t hurt tender blooms at all.

So off I went to Lowe’s Hardware on a futile mission, cash in my hot little hand. I spent $40 on cheap wooden stakes that drove splinters into my skin just from looking at them, and a roll of burlap that was ridiculously small for the price. I dragged my husband to the edge of the yard for five nights straight and barked instructions for  covering eight, five-foot tall and wide azaleas with the puny little baby burlap and personal bed sheets – my personal bedsheets paraded for the whole world to see – in hopes of keeping the flowers from freezing. All the while he mocked me for the burlap.

The dog howled mercilessly at the little tents every night because, well, he’s not that bright and he repeatedly seemed puzzled by these new intruders in the yard. The wind blew the coverings off several times sending me out in the freezing cold at 11 pm, 1 am, and 5 am to secure them. And every morning I dutifully removed them before the day got too warm.

For my efforts … well, I was able to save some of the blooms. Maybe half.  Maybe that’s optimistic. The others got nipped. The deer don’t even want them. They are sad, soggy wilted little carcasses drooping from the leaves. That doesn’t even address my hydrangea, japanese maple and tea olive in other locales in the yard, which were also sprouting new leaves, all of which got burned and for which I just didn’t have the time to deal with. I’m sorry guys. It wasn’t your year.

Anyway, days later, and the temperatures have rebounded somewhat, but another freezing night or two isn’t out of the question. The surviving blooms still haven’t opened. The burlap and stakes are still laying in the leaves behind the plants. The sheets are piled on top of the chest freezer in the garage, slated for washing once late April rolls around and I’m sure I won’t need them again, or once I get annoyed enough with them being in the way of the food in the freezer, whichever comes first.

I will, of course, do this all again, because I am an optimist, and I never learn. And because I love gardens. Ironic for someone who really, as it turns out, is no good at gardening. I should just save my money and take trips to Duke Gardens or the JC Raulston Arboretum, or some local garden tours to see the fruits of some other sucker’s hard work.

Alas, I have to go now. I have some new plants – a rhododendron and two anise-smelling something-or-other on my back deck awaiting planting. And some daisies. That the squirrels have been bothering. And I’m thinking of buying some rain barrels this year. And I have a load of mulch – 20 yards – coming on Saturday. Twenty. Yards.

Yeah, I never learn.






Categories: Piedmont Gardener

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