Wednesday, September 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Garden Q&A

Question: What can I expect from my daffodils come spring? With the recent warm spell we have had here in the Philadelphia area, some of the daffodils were up about four to five inches, and some even started to show buds.

- Donald Donovan
Answer: Some will be unscathed, and some will be zapped. Unless you have nothing but early bloomers, most daffodils still have their flower buds underground. Those will perform as usual.

Flower buds above ground may survive the upper 20s and bloom later, but really cold weather, especially if it persists for several days, will be too much. Unfortunately, that's life in the temperate zone. The bulbs, however, are unaffected and should perform normally a year from now.

Of the many varieties of narcissus that I grow, only a couple of early bloomers pushed buds above ground, and none of the mid- to late-season ones are even showing foliage.

This all points to a good lesson for planting early bloomers of many sorts, from narcissus to rhododendrons. Spring-blooming perennials and shrubs that are early within their genus should not be planted in a position that encourages early blooming - for instance, a south-facing spot near a building. In such a location, mild days and strong sun can prompt early bloomers to swell and bloom too early to survive later hard freezes.

Early bloomers are better planted in a position - such as the north side of a building - that doesn't get them ahead of schedule. (Just be sure they aren't in full shade.)

Q: The first few years after we planted our copper beech (and it was good-sized, 8 or 10 feet tall), it kept brown leaves on its branches all winter and shed them in the spring. I was told that was normal. But now that it's 25 feet tall and thriving, it seems to lose all its leaves but a small fringe on the very bottom branches.

Is there something wrong that's going to kill this beloved tree in a few years?

- N.S.
A: The tree is behaving normally. As a beech ages, winter persistence of dried leaves is typically limited to lower branches, creating an odd lower-fringe effect.


Send questions to Michael Martin Mills, The Inquirer, Box 41705, Philadelphia 19101 or gardenqanda@earthlink.net. Please include locale. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/

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Michael Martin Mills Inquirer Columnist
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