When it’s still winter but it should be spring

One of my friends in Lake Tahoe recently made the following post on Facebook. We have 4 seasons in Tahoe; almost winter, winter, still winter and road construction. I thought she could have as easily been referring to Klamath County, though I do think we have glorious autumns here. But anyway, it’s the ‘still winter’ that is the plague of gardeners. Instead of a spring where it warms up a little and the nights are above freezing, we get hard freezes all the way through June, and that really influences what we can plant far more than the low temperatures of winter.

Many plants can take a -30 night when they are dormant, but once they have leafed out a 28 degree night can kill them. This seems to be particularly true of plants native to Russia and Northern Asia. I often wonder whether in those countries the weather really does just go from winter, to spring, to summer. Our natives, for the most part can go far more easily through these temperature swings, though I do remember one sad year when the aspen froze and all those new bright spring green leaves turned black overnight.

I’d like to share the names and photos of some of the early flowering plants I grow that can survive a hard freeze.

 Johnny-Jump-Up (Viola cornuta), native to Spain and the Pyrenees is one tough little plant, and will seed itself around your garden if you let it. I do. It flowers in colors of purple and yellow when there’s very little else to see and goes right on flowering nonstop until winter.

‘Lipstick’ is a delightful ornamental alpine strawberry that was bred in The Netherlands, a cross between the alpine strawberry Fragaria ananassa & the more intense-flowered marsh cinquefoil, Potentilla palustris. It has edible strawberries, though not many. The flowers are larger than strawberry flowers and an intense lipstick pink. If given enough water, it will cover an area quickly with the runners it sends out.

Turkish Speedwell (Veronica liwanensis) is a low-growing, creeping groundcover, covered in sky blue blooms in early spring. It does not require any maintenance to look great, does not try to overtake its neighbors and it does not appear to be picky about soil.

Dwarf St. John’s Wort (Hypericum empetrifolium nanum) is another low-growing ground cover that quickly forms large mats with small yellow flowers in the early spring.

The Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) native to meadows and prairies of North America, Europe, and Asia, makes a compact mound of fern like leaves with flowers in shades of wine red through pale lavender, to white. The feathery seed heads add interest to the plant long after the flowers are finished.

Cushion Spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) looks as though it has been carefully pruned into a perfect mound, and the vivid yellow bracts appear to glow on gray, gloomy days. It is one of the poisonous plants though, so never touch and then rub your eyes or face.

And finally, an early flowering shrub, Lilac-Flowered Honeysuckle (Lonicera syringantha) is a rangy plant with sparse dull foliage and long floppy branches going every which way. But in early spring it is covered in clusters of small pink flowers more resembling Daphne than Honeysuckle, with a most wonderful scent.

The accompanying photographs of these plants were taken on a May morning following a 25 degree hard freeze overnight.

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