After an especially harsh winter, spring returned briefly to Cleveland and then morphed into summer. Although we’ve been subject to many gray, rainy days and temperatures that fluctuate from the forties and fifties to the seventies and eighties , I’m amazed at how close to normal bloom time most plants are.

Probably dead 50 year old Ilex crenata

Probably dead 50 year old Ilex crenata; usually totally green all year

However, our plants are still feeling the effects of the unusual cold. Forsythia bloom has been minimal except way down at the base where snow insulated the flower buds. Most of the buds above the snow line froze. I’ve also noticed very little bloom on flowering cherries and sparser bloom on magnolias. I’m still waiting to see how the crabapples will bloom. I do see that many of them have dead branches. This is probably a result of dessication. Even Ilex crenata, an evergreen similar in looks to boxwood, has suffered greatly. I must say that I thought this plant was virtually indestructible; however, at the moment, it is virtually bare. Boxwoods look totally beige. Although they look atrocious, they might be alive. Replacements will be difficult to find because the ones at the nurseries also suffered.

Continuing to monitor plants to see if they’re alive or dead is critical. I fear that some things have really been injured and, at best, you’ll have to cut them down to the ground and hope they come back from the base. But other things seem relatively alive although there’s a lot of dead wood on everything. This will necessitate considerably more pruning than usual.

Basal foliage of R.'Home Run'; dead canes cut to ground

Basal foliage of Rosa ‘Home Run’; this rose was six feet tall.

Some of my roses that I’ve had for fifteen or twenty years have finally shown signs of life but only down near the base.  This applies to vigorous climbers as well as my Knockouts and Oso Easy roses.

Hydrangea macrophylla 'Penny Mac' with basal foliage - canes have been cut to ground - usually as high as the hayrack

Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Penny Mac’ with basal foliage – canes have been cut to ground – usually as high as the hayrack

Usual height of Hydrangea 'Penny Mac' in mid-June

Usual height of Hydrangea ‘Penny Mac’ in mid-June

The same is true of my hydrangeas. Fortunately, I decided five years ago to pull out all of the macrophylla hydrangeas (the ones with big pink or blue heads) that bloom only on old wood – too many frozen flower buds. This year, I’ve had to cut out all of the old canes to the base. The new ones will bloom, although likely not until July rather than June.

Wait until at least the end of May before digging out what you think is dead. Keep scratching the bark to see if there is any green underneath that will indicate life. Wait to prune until you see foliation.

Don’t despair. Think of the dead plants as an opportunity to plant something you’ve always wanted but for which you didn’t have space.