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Spring Expectations
By: Nebraska Extension, Douglas-Sapy Counties - 03/12/2018

We are starting to get phone calls about what to expect this coming spring. Callers are concerned with the dry fall and warm weather turning bitter cold and how it will affect our landscape. There is no easy answer to give. However, there are things we can do to help manage expectations this spring.

We should be prepared for some bark damage to our trees. We know that plants need to acclimate to the cold and abrupt weather changes can lead to bark lifting. We enjoyed a mild and dry fall through the first day of winter. The temperature of was 57F on Dec. 16 and Christmas day we only reached a high of 16F. Less than 10 days is probably not be enough time for trees to winterize and prepare for the cold. We experienced a similar situation in November of 2014 and the following spring we saw thin bark trees such as Norway maples, Bradford pears, autumn blaze maples and a few other show signs of bark lifting. This is when the plant tissue freezes and the bark buckles.

If you do notice any of your trees showing signs of bark lifting you would want to exercise caution. Do not pull off any bark that may appear to be loose. Another responses we want to avoid is reaching for favorite fertilizer and apply a generous amount around the tree. Research has shown that this is the last thing we want to do. Fertilizers can actually add to the stress and make a situation worse. The best action will be to do nothing. We also need to remember that trees do not heal, they seal. The wound will take several growing seasons to callus over. Do not paint, tar, or apply any other product to the damaged area.

Perennials may be late to break dormancy this spring. We encourage people to wait until June 15 of every year before they declare the plant dead. Nothing is more heartbreaking than to dig up a perennial that we assume is dead only to see signs of green growth emerging from the soil. Some plants such as the hardy hibiscus is notoriously late to emerge in the spring. Knowing your plants will also give you a better idea when they should star to emerge. Waiting is the hardest part but this coming spring it will be necessary. Again, avoid reaching for your favorite fertilizer. Fertilizers can push a plant to grow and allowing the plant to grow on its own accord is the best option.

Our weather is dynamic in Nebraska and it allows us to appreciate all four seasons. If you find yourself needing to replace any of your plant material this year make sure that your plants are hardy to USDA Zone 5a or 5b (-20F to -10F). Choosing plants that are suited to grow and survive in our area is one step that you can do to make sure your landscape can meet the challenges of Nebraska's weather.

If you are unsure what USDA Hardiness Zone you fall in check out the USDA map here planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/PHZMWeb/Default.aspx.

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