Masterpiece Landscaping Blog

March 24, 2016

Lilacs, El Nino, and our 2016 Minnesota Spring

Filed under: battling the Minnesota climate,Bulbs,shrubs and trees — glenn @ 5:31 pm

El Nino is a Pacific Ocean current event.    The powerful primary Pacific currents normally in early winter   make their  turn North after  hitting  the American continent  somewhere around southern  Mexico.     Occasionally   they begin their northward turn much farther  to the South bringing greater warmth from equatorial  cloud and water  which has a warming effect from  western United all the way to Gopherland cakked  “El Nino”.     Winter 2016  in Minnesota is the result.

I don’t remember El Ninos during my childhood growing up in St. Paul from mid 1930s to 1956 when I joined the army.   Instead, I remember how brutal the winters were year after year until the late 1960s.  I delivered newspapers both morning and afternoon from 1946 to 1950.   Despite the annual January thaw in those days…..less annual in today’s  times,  Winter has never been as mean and cruel as those mornings I got up at 6:00 AM  to deliver 70 St. Paul Pioneer Presses before clients began their breakfasts.   Have you ever delivered newspapers at minus 32  or 28 Fahrenheit?

Today’s snowfall after weeks of mild isn’t going to cause trouble for your landscape garden treasures unless the fall of the wet snow measures over five inches and you grow  beautiful pines with spreading foliage on your property, such as White Pine, the broader the branch, the greater the damage from the weight of heavy  snow the tree cannot bear.

Some of my early Dutch Bulbs opened bloom last Monday…..Snowdrops are always the earliest….then Eranthis and Scilla (Blue Squill).   Scilla is a very, very weedy  rover by seed in the grounds.  Its blue is among most true of all beautiful blues in our geography’s gardens.     In normal Springs its leaves begin to dry up and disappear beginning  in early June, depending upon the degree of light available.

About ten years ago we in Gopherland  had an El Nino mood occur in which after a month or more of spectacular fresh very early snowless  Spring, the temperature dropped  below 25F which killed all of the glorious buds and  blooms on my  Elizabeth Magnolia and caused a slit along the south facing side of the trunk.     It has struggled for life and bloom ever since.

Lilacs are already  fat budded  this year.    So few Minnesotans these days know their outdoors, they pay no  attention to the grounds they own.    It may be that a majority of them don’t know what a lilac is…..and not all lilacs emit  the same magnificent lilac fragrance.  There are Korean lilacs, Canadian lilacs, Miss Kim lilacs,  Japanese lilacs, Preston lilacs, and French, (or Persian)  lilacs……and countless  cultivars.   It may be during this El Nino year, that our French lilacs

Which of the above lilacs emit that famous lilac fragrance?     While all of the above lilacs carry fragrance of bloom, only the Persians, Syringa vulgaris cultivars emit the true lilac perfume….among the most beautiful of color and also among the most beautiful of fragrance,  Syringa vulgaris Charles Joly.     The common Persian lilac, Syringa vulgaris,  is usually the weakest of bloom, both in color and frangrance.

The peak of the French  lilac blooming season usually occurs around mid to late May.   Despite statistics from standard shrub and tree catalogues,  most  French  lilacs are  sold as shrubs, but are in fact   small trees in size.   They  spread in the soil  by  roots.  Maximum heights range from 20 to 25 feet tall,  taller if unwanted suckers are removed from  the ground annually.

Dutch  bulbs, also known as spring bulbs need to be purchased in the fall.   Most are susceptible to rabbit breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.    The one major Dutch bulb immune to bunny trouble is anything  Narcissus by genus……daffodils in the vernacular.   Most of these are bright yellow in color.    Their foliage also dries up by mid July annually.

All of these bulbs are programmed to bloom whether in full sun or under deciduous trees.    Few look their very best when grown in deep continuous shade.   Again, don’t forget to buy these bulbs next September and October.