Gardeners' Q & A: Early Spring Freezes and More

Paul James answers questions about bamboo, late freezes and heavy clay.

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Master gardener Paul James fields questions from gardeners:

Q. Paul, I took your advice and planted a clump of Fargesia bamboo in my Zone 7 garden last spring, and now the leaves are brown. Is it a goner?

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A. Assuming you planted it where it receives a good bit of afternoon shade, and that you gave it a lot of tender loving care, chances are your Fargesia is just showing signs of winter stress. That's just something that the Fargesias and other bamboos will do when stressed by winter temperatures. The leaves may turn a dull green, or even lose their color completely, then recover completely once spring arrives. And even if leaves like this do remain, you can just trim them off or cut the canes back to the ground, and in no time at all, new canes will emerge.

Q. I planted some black bamboo last spring, but the canes are green, not black. What gives?

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A. You probably don't have anything to worry about. The canes of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) start out green and very often don't turn black until their second year of growth. But once they do turn black, they hold their color and that's certainly one of the reasons this bamboo is so popular. (There's a variety of black bamboo that remains green, but my guess is you don't have that one because it's rarely — as in almost never — sold in nurseries.) Fair warning however, although it tends to be a bit tamer than the other members in its genus, this is a spreading bamboo.

Q. Help. My bulbs came up early, and the cold weather has zapped the foliage. What should I do?

A. Relax. Frost damage on spring-flowering bulbs is a fairly common occurrence, especially on those bulbs that tend to bloom in late winter in most areas. Just two weeks ago, my bulbs got zapped by temperatures in the teens and the foliage was a nasty brown, but they've rebounded nicely and recovered completely.

Q. Help. The buds on several of my shrubs have gotten hit by cold weather. What should I do?

A. You should relax too. Again, late freezes can do a number on emerging flower and leaf buds, but that rarely causes permanent damage. And in many cases, even if the primary buds are destroyed, secondary buds will take their place. Of course, that's assuming that the plant in question is truly hardy to your area.

Q. Are there any trees or shrubs that will grow in heavy clay?

A. Yes, as a matter of fact, there are. They include white ash, lacebark elm, Leyland cypress, flowering quince, forsythia, spirea, lilac and red-twigged dogwood. Of course, that assumes that these plants are well-adapted to growing in your area, but using plants that grow well in clay is a whole lot easier than amending the clay.

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