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Lowenfels: Gardeners must adjust to climate change

Jeff Lowenfels
Erik Hill

If anyone in the United States should understand and believe in climate change, it is the gardener in Southcentral Alaska. The growing season hereabouts has more than doubled in the past 100 years. Still not a believer? How about all the unusual losses of reliables across almost every single yard in Southcentral?

We have already gone through a climate-change-induced spruce bark beetle epidemic. Spruce entered into earlier-than-normal spring thaws but then were hit by freeze cycles. This so weakened them by killing new root hairs and using up valuable energy, they were unable to produce the sap needed to spit out invading spruce bark beetles and feed themselves at the same time. Fortunately, the young survived and adapted, we hope.

Believer or not in a warming clime, it is time to take assessment of this year's losses, starting with lilacs. Lilacs are supposed to be stone hardy. Indeed, sometimes they are used to define the term, yet a tremendous number of older shrubs simply did not make it this year. In the older lilac bushes that did, just the oldest limbs in the center died. Young plants seemed to do fine.

It wasn't a cold winter. However, we had at least two really warm events followed by below-freezing temps, the first in late-ish January when the thaw and rain formed puddles and saturated soil which froze again. Was this accumulation a cause for plants to rot during the warmer parts of the rest of winter and early spring?

Yet so many plants in soil with absolutely perfect drainage, on the sides of slopes even, died this year. Remember the long wait for buds to open this year? And who can forget that just as they were about to open, we had that uncharacteristic late May, stick-to-the-ground snowfall?

The result of this weather had to have been confused plants. Sugars produced when there are leaves are converted to starch and stored in the roots all winter. Come spring, these are transported up to where new cells are made, because there aren't leaves producing sugars yet (I keep telling you to read "Teaming With Nutrients" and do so again). There is some pretty precise timing needed, and there is no doubt the start and stop spring, like a new driver working brakes, not being easy on plants. Either older tissue is literally ignored as the plant concentrates on the more productive, younger tissue, or the physical processes are more difficult to complete in older tissue when there are so many disruptions.

The take-home? Well, we need to do a better job of limb pruning lilacs, taking the whole limbs of older wood first and doing it more often.

Next, mock oranges (Philadelphus) and hostas were similarly impacted. Not all died, some showed signs of partial die-back. Younger plants did well. Again, confused plants. The take-home here is that your yard has many micro climates. Hopefully we can learn from the lessons and take advantage of the bad news,

The last major group about which I am getting questions is peonies and delphiniums. In fact, there is some reason to hope that these are just late, like so much that did survive this year. Hang in there a couple of more weeks. You may not get flowers, but the plants may do well enough so you will next year. Let's wait and see.

Finally, it makes sense for us to "crowd source" catalog the damage. If you had loss, why not send me a note via teamingwithmicrobes.com. I'll keep us all posted and, if I can figure out how, leave your postings for others to see.

 

Jeff Lowenfels' books can be ordered at tinyurl.com/teamingwithmicrobes and tinyurl.com/teamingwithnutrients.

Garden calendar

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SECOND ANNUAL PALMER WEED SMACKDOWN: FREE BARBECUE AND LIVE MUSIC. WIN FABULOUS PRIZES. SATURDAY 10 A.M.-2 P.M. JULY 13, DOWNTOWN PALMER PAVILION (ACROSS FROM THE PALMER LIBRARY AT 655 S. VALLEY WAY). HELP CONTROL INVASIVE WEEDS THAT THREATEN LOCAL SALMON HABITAT.

ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN: YOU KEEP READING ABOUT IT IN THE ADN, WHY NOT VISIT IT THIS WEEK? HECK, WHY NOT JOIN AND TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE GREAT BENEFITS? ALASKABG.ORG

LIGHTHOUSE TEA: 3-7 P.M. JULY 12. JOIN FRIENDLY FELLOW GARDENERS FOR AN ENCHANTED AFTERNOON WITH FAERIES AND EARTHLY CREATURES ON THE BANKS OF EAGLE RIVER. FUN FUNDRAISER FOR THE ALASKA BOTANICAL GARDEN. TICKETS AND MORE INFORMATION AT ALASKABG.ORG/EVENTS/EVENTSTEA.HTML

GOOD EARTH GARDEN SCHOOL: ELLEN VANDE VISES'S "UNIVERSITY" FOR ORGANIC GARDENING HAS SOME FANTASTIC LECTURES AND WORKSHOPS COMING UP. CHECK OUT THE EVENTS AT GOODEARTHGARDENSCHOOL.COM. DON'T MISS JANICE SCHOFIELD-EATON'S EVENTS ON HERBS. A MUST.

PALMER MIDSUMMER GARDEN AND ART FAIRE: 10 A.M.-6 P.M. ON THE GREEN IN PALMER. EVENTS INCLUDE WORKSHOPS ON GARDENING, SUSTAINABLE LIVING, CHICKEN-KEEPING AND MORE. PALMERGARDENANDART.ORG.

 



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