It’s May First, Where’s the Color in my Garden?

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    We are ecstatic that spring temperatures have FINALLY shown up in Kansas City! Our irregular weather this year has caused some delays that we haven’t experienced for several years. We had some record highs and lows in February and March. Those extremes were not ideal for several of our common garden plants in Kansas City Landscapes.

    For the last three years, both tulips and redbud trees have bloomed by mid-March, if not before. This year, it’s May 1 and we’re just now seeing redbud color. The Kansas City region has had an abysmal showing of spring color compared to previous years. The intense, late cold caused frost damage on many spring bloomers, the most notable missing, are Azaleas. We’ve also observed significant die-back on roses that haven’t happened for several years and perennials are not breaking dormancy since the soil hasn’t warmed enough yet.

    What’s Happening with Azaleas?

    The Azaleas are semi-evergreen in our climate and often keep leaves throughout winter. If we get harsh weather, they respond by dropping their leaves. In February of this year, Azalea buds were damaged and many appeared dead. We met a client on Friday to look at Azaleas that appeared dead only to check in today and find new growth sprouting all over. This is an indication that the weather is beginning to cooperate and we’re going to soon be able to tell what is and isn’t dead. Prior to this week, there hasn’t been any breaking dormancy.

    Pictured Above: This Bloom-A-Thon Red Azalea in Leawood appeared dead last week. It was merely twigs and didn’t provide any spring color. This week, new, green leaves have begun to emerge. There’s still hope!

    The sad truth is that Mother Nature may have robbed us from our typical spring display, but many Azaleas are bouncing back and with a little care, will be just fine. We often forget that the weather can’t be controlled.

    Roses and Die-Back

    Since we haven’t had severe cold for several winters, gardeners are seeing significant die-back on roses. The positive here is that they’ve begun to grow and many are coming back from root-stock. The only negative here would be if you have a grafted rose whose root-stock isn’t your desired rose. For most, the new growth will actually be good for the rose.

    Where are my Perennials?

    Similar to the experience with many other plants, perennials aren’t emerging quite yet. (Or rather, they’re just beginning to.) Much like the redbuds are late, so are our lovely perennials. The perennials rely on ground temperature to alert them to break dormancy. When we don’t get warmth until the end of April, the plants don’t know to “wake-up”. Have no fear, we’re seeing rapid change daily now that temperatures are warmer. The garden just has a little less color this May than typical years. Unfortunately, there’s no way to control the weather.

    Pictured Above: This Sun King Aralea was not visible two days ago when checking a client garden in Leawood. Today, it has begun to emerge through the mulch. Our color-less gardens will not remain as such for long.

    What if I have Warranty Plants with a Garden Center or Landscaper?

    Most professionals are aware that it’s not quite possible to tell what is and is not breaking dormancy since many plants haven’t emerged. This means that they’re monitoring the plants and likely noting a plan of action as things start to break dormancy. It would be virtually impossible to tell prior to a plant breaking dormancy whether it were dead or not. Be vigilant in your observations, the next few weeks will reveal your plant health. Be aware that many butterfly bush, perennials, certain grasses, and ground-covers rely on ground temperatures, so will be late to show signs of life.

    Why Are Garden Center Plants Green and Mine Aren’t?

    A trick of the trade: We often order our plants from the South in spring, just like garden centers. Why? Because the south is several weeks ahead of our own plants for breaking dormancy. This means we can put in lush, leafy, plants when we install in the spring even though our own plants that have over-wintered in Kansas City are still twigs. Many plants coming from garden centers have arrived from areas that have been warm for several weeks longer than us and many have been stored in green houses. Your plants will not look the same as something several weeks ahead and/or stored in a greenhouse.

    Pictured Above: Left- A Bloom-A-Thon Double Pink Azalea shipped from Oklahoma. Since Oklahoma is several weeks ahead, the azalea is green and blooming. Right- A Bloom-A-Thon Double Pink Azalea that arrived from a Kansas City supplier. Both are alive, but one “appears” dead because it hasn’t broken dormancy and the blooms were damaged in February.

    Part of the joy of gardening is the opportunity to enjoy varying seasons. When we have a harsh season, the repercussions can be unfortunate, but not permanent. We miss our Azalea blooms, but look forward to warm temperatures and the emergence of our gardens.

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    About The Author

    Robyn is a 2009 Graduate of the Kansas State University Department of Horticulture. She grew up in South East Kansas where she graduated from Humboldt High School. She was a Kansas State University Leadership Scholar and President of the Horticulture Club. She married Bret in 2009 and they have a daughter Ellie, born in 2021. Their family is completed by three adopted dogs.

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