Majestic old oak next to back garden against Oklahoma blue sky. Native plants know freezes happen.

Freezes happen

You may remember I cautioned against getting too excited over spring’s warm temperatures and gentle breezes. It’s only March. We still have a month before Oklahoma’s last average freeze date of April 20, and freezes happen.

'Darcey Bussell' rose with new foliage burned by the freeze. Note the older leaves were unfazed.

‘Darcey Bussell’ rose with new foliage burned by the freeze. Note the older spring–yes spring–leaves were unfazed.

In fact, in my part of central Oklahoma just south of Guthrie, I had more than one freeze. According to the Oklahoma Mesonet, we had lows of 28°, 25° and around 32°F for the past three days including this morning. These ugly pictures also tell the story, and it’s okay.


Japanese maple in the front border with burned foliage. Can you just see my little vintage convertible behind?

Japanese maple in the front border with burned foliage. Can you just see my little vintage convertible behind? My husband loves old cars so it’s hard to take a photo of the front garden without a white car in it. He needs to build a garage.

The perennials, trees and shrubs will all recover. I’ll wait until frozen foliage is dead and dry, and then I’ll strip it from Japanese maples and my ‘Jane’ magnolia. ‘Jane’ almost always takes a hit as do the peach, plum and apple trees. In Oklahoma, you need to like fruit trees for their spring bloom more than for their fruit. They get hit almost every year.

'Jane' magnolia hit by the freeze. I enjoyed it for a couple of weeks before this happened.

‘Jane’ magnolia hit by the freeze. I enjoyed it for a couple of weeks before this happened.

Some of the roses felt the freeze too while others still stand proud and full of leafy goodness. There didn’t seem to be any logic about this either. ‘Darcey Bussell,’ tucked in near the house, froze while ‘Carefree Beauty’ remained unscathed in the back garden with no protection. From looking over the Mesonet data, I think the freezes didn’t last very long, a good thing. A freeze for an entire day is a whole different weather event from one lasting only a couple of hours.  We were lucky.

Tulipa 'Pink Star' from John Scheepers.

Tulipa ‘Pink Star’ from John Scheepers in front of a red crapemyrtle, Dynamite. Note the peeling bark which is very interesting on the crape.

On a happier note, all of the tulips, narcissus, Ipheion uniflorum, pansies and violas came through the freezes with nary a scratch. Sunday morning, the tulips were all leaning over rather sad, but by afternoon, they perked up and looked like their former selves.

Tulips in the front border fully recovered from the freezes.

Tulips in the front border fully recovered from the freezes.

Last fall, I was contacted by the lovely folks at John Scheepers who were sad about my roses lost to Rose Rosette Virus. They asked if they could send me double-flowering tulips as a spring pick-me-up. I said, “Heck yeah.” One thing I love about most of the parrot-type or double tulips is they start blooming later than the singles. Mine have just begun with ‘Pink Star.” I still have many more to go. They also sent me a double narcissus, ‘Gay Tabor.‘ I love its mixed white petals and gold petaloid segments. The tulips won’t return, but the daffodil will.

Bright blue pansies beneath blown glass lilies shrugged off the freezes.

Bright blue pansies beneath blown glass lilies shrugged off the freezes.

No one can blame the plants, but here’s a hint about freezes and Oklahoma’s fickle prairie climate. Watch the native trees, grasses and shrubs for signs of life. Don’t consult your ornamental plants. They don’t know because most are from Asia and Europe. What do they know of the Oklahoma prairie?

Majestic old oak next to back garden against Oklahoma blue sky. Native plants know freezes happen.

Majestic old oak next to the back garden against an Oklahoma blue sky.

For the past three weeks, as I drove up and down the country roads surrounding my home, I watched the trees on either side. Blue skies framed their dark outlines. I searched for purple and gray, the sign of redbuds brightening the landscape, but saw nothing. Only a few native trees decided to test the waters. First were the cottonwoods. They sprouted a few new spring-green leaves, but didn’t commit. The oaks, being older and wiser, waited. They’re still waiting.

This photo of a native redbud up beside the chicken run and barn isn't one of my best because of the woodpile cover, but I wanted you to see how beautiful the redbuds are this year.

This photo of a native redbud is from April 14, 2014. It hasn’t even broken bud here yet.

This week I am beginning to see a little purple mixed with green so spring temperatures are considering coming to stay.

No matter what the calendar says, trust the mighty oaks. They know freezes happen, and they wait patiently before sending out the joyous message spring is here. Try to be like an oak and wait. Don’t buy tomato plants and other tropical beauties yet. Wait to plant your containers unless you’re simply creating something for Easter. I understand set design, but know that they may croak on you, and cover them with a large contractor bag if we’re forecasted a low below 45°F.

It will soon be spring and summer before you know it. Then we can complain about the heat.


24 comments on “Freezes happen

  1. Pingback: Wildflower Wednesday: Oklahoma rebuds - Red Dirt Ramblings®

  2. Robin Ruff Leja

    I’m with you Dee, spring freezes don’t faze me much. People start to fret over their tulips and daffodils, but I know they’ll be just fine. Our last frost is still two months off, so I’m not doing anything foolish, believe me. I’ve planted pansies in the window boxes, and the spring veggies are going in this weekend. After that, we wait.

  3. Marie at the Lazy W

    I love your oak tree advice! And I am not sure I’ve seen that vintage car in all its glory. Would love to. Your double tulips are just super pretty. Thanks for all of this, Dee. xoxo

  4. gail eichelberger

    I trust the oaks…always! Our first trees to flower are the Elms and that’s in February, followed by maples and Redbuds. I do love spring and hope it doesn’t morph into summer too fast. xo

    1. Dee Nash

      Me too Gail. I’m hoping we get a long and lovely spring. We shall see.

  5. Marian St.Clair

    I’m convinced ‘Carefree Beauty’ is the best rose ever. Just wish it would grow in shade too. We came close to a freeze last night, but seems we might have made it through. Weather Channel says its 36, but I’m waiting for the sun to come up before I start dancing.

    1. Dee Nash

      Marian, it’s always darkest before the light. Hope you didn’t get your freeze.

  6. Karin/Southern Meadows

    Excellent advice. After 80 degree weather last week we started this week at the edge of freezing night time temps. I haven’t been out this morning to see the damage. I fully embrace your comment that you must love fruit trees for their blooms more than their fruit. It holds true in Georgia as well. I am in the process of removing all my roses that succumbed to Rose Rosette. The builder planted 30 of them and it is a daunting task. Love your tulips!

    1. Dee Nash

      Hi Karin, thank you. I’m so sorry about your roses. I removed so many myself. I still have a few. Hang in there.

  7. indygardener

    Good advice. Native trees know best. In my garden, the Japanese tree lilac is always the first to leaf out and the first to have some foliage nipped by the frost. We need to be patient all the way to May 10th or later most years! No redbud blooms here, quite yet, or foliage on the oak trees, either.

    1. Dee Nash

      My lilacs, including the Korean ones, are still tight in bud thank goodness. It’s hard to be patient when the mercury hits 80 one day and 28 the next. Ha!

  8. gardenannie

    Um in my comment I meant the last of the blackjack leaves fell. Sheesh.

    1. Dee Nash

      Hi Annie, I knew what you meant. 🙂 Yes, the blackjack oaks and their persistent leaves. I have some of those still on the trees. Sorry you hit 32 yesterday. Hope all is well.

  9. gardenannie

    My daddy always said spring was finally in Oklahoma when the last of the blackjack trees fell. We had a 32 degree last night here in the piney woods of East Texas.

  10. Gardener on Sherlock Street

    We had a freeze too. Our hackberry is native and also knows to stay “in” until it is safe. March is fickle.

    1. Dee Nash

      Sorry you had a freeze too. Not surprised since the freeze was so deep. March and even April sometimes are fickle. You’re so right.

  11. Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening

    “Watch the natives” is excellent advice for any climate, even if spring comes 6 weeks later, as it does for us. Love your tulips! I planted some last fall and am crossing my fingers that the voles didn’t get them and I’ll see them bloom!

    1. Dee Nash

      Oh Kathy, I hope you do too. Spring with tulips is a joy. Share them when they bloom.

  12. Janice Taylor

    Love those tulips, just gorgeous! I’m in Central Florida, and have had my saucer magnolias turned to mush more than once in spring, although this year they made it through beautifully. I’m sure I have a ‘Jane’ in the mix…they’re all about 15 years old and I’ve forgotten the cultivars, if I ever knew them.

    1. Dee Nash

      Hi Janice, glad your deciduous magnolias made it through. I think last year was the first time it happened for me. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  13. Peggy

    We have had some very low temps here in southwest Kansas too. But we have also had some 80 degree days already. This spring seems to be really mixed up.

    1. Dee Nash

      We had some of the 80s here too which is why everything was blooming. It does seem rather mixed up like a girl going through puberty.

  14. Lisa at Greenbow

    Your last two sentences made me laugh. Too bad about the freezes but as you said it is March. I am impressed by your tulips. I might have to plant some next year. I have so few now. Our redbud is blooming today. It has been patient what with all the warm days. Nights are still very chilly.

    1. Dee Nash

      Lisa, glad I made you laugh. I sure try.