Nursery Notes: Early spring may bring frost danger to plants

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Less than sterling news seems to flood in every day from the outside world. Perhaps there is a silver lining in it for our small valley. Exports of wood products and coal are made less expensive to the U.S. and abroad. Cherry exports are paid in U.S. dollars, too. Retirees from Alberta and Saskatchewan may be put off what were previously less expensive “sunshine state” residences and may look more favourably to our province. Lower fuel costs are sure to encourage summertime tourism. These really are all positives for Creston.

I’m expecting an early spring this year. I prefer late ones, though. Early springs always mean a fight with the plants leafing out early, then getting burnt by “surprise” late spring frosts. This doesn’t really hurt them but it can make them look bad temporarily. I’m in the business of selling nice looking plant material, so that is where the conflict comes in.

Even if we don’t get the surprise frosts, I still have to plan for them. What can you do? I keep a few of the soft plants nearest the greenhouses or buildings in case I have to move them inside quickly. Failing a move inside, they still get some extra protection from just their proximity to the buildings.

I can run frost protection sprinklers early mornings so as to prevent widespread freezing in the nursery. As water freezes, it releases heat energy. This is termed an exothermic reaction.

For an example of the opposite kind, where heat energy is absorbed, look in the fertilizer barrels inside the greenhouses. When water and fertilizer salts are mixed the water becomes even colder as the salts dissolve. This is an endothermic reaction.

Back outside in the nursery, as long as more water continues to freeze, the plant cells won’t be damaged. This works well for light frosts but at -4C all you end up with is an ice-coated nursery. So late cold snaps to -5C require more moving plants inside and looking after the water lines so they don’t get damaged, either. Such is life. I am no longer willing to get up at 3 a.m. every time the sky clears off. This is where experience can pay dividends — 2015 will be year 15 here. A fair milestone for me but not even half the time spent at the nursery compared to Mr. Peters, the previous nurseryman.

This year will see a whole new collection of plant material being released for sale in the nursery trade. I have selected a few new hydrangeas to try, like Double Hot Pink and Sweet ’N Salsa, a two-tone flower. Some new honeysuckle shrubs and vines have frangrance and colours to match. There are new ninebarks for foliage and a Sonic Boom Red wegelia with brighter colours and better growth habit. In the greenhouse, I’ve got some new flowers growing already including Purple Ballerina datura (double purple ruffled trumpet like flowers). I’ll be seeding some new vegetable varieties before too long as well. The countdown has begun!

Evan Davies owns Beltane Nursery at 2915 Highway 3 in Erickson.