March blooms (and frosts) past and present

Any gardener or outdoor enthusiast has noticed blooms appearing everywhere, signaling that it's just about time for spring to arrive even as we're only a few days into the month of March. March is a notable month of transitions in nature, as blooms begin their path to fully flowering.

Pear trees in landscapes and ornamental varieties around the loop are in full bloom at the time of this writing. My bearded iris and Mexican peach tree are both blooming in the back yard. Roses have put on new leaves. Even my fig is wanting to send up new shoots.

"March means many trees and plants are in bloom, and will soon begin to flower."

Our native elm trees (pronounced with two syllables - "EL-lum" - if you're an Angelina County old-timer) are wrapping up their blooms, as they started a couple of weeks ago. By contrast, pecan trees will be among the very last to bloom. A pecan's blooms are a sure sign for many that frosts are over for good. 

Thursday, March 15, which occurs during most schools' spring break around the farm and ranch land for sale in Texas in this area, often marks the date that we have a 50 percent chance of frost being all over. This has often been the case as far back as the late 1800s in many parts of the state. 

Doing a quick internet search, I found a site that allowed me to search weather records kept by Angelina County Airport as early as 1948. Digging deeper, I found a book - Climatological Data book for United States by Sections, Vol VII - that contained weather records for January, February and March of 1920. (For the curious, the last cold snap in 1920 was from March 5-8, during which recorded lows were 27 to 28 degrees Fahrenheit.)

 The final frosts will soon depart Angelina County, which means flowers can be seen in full bloom fairly soon.

This year, the last harsh cold spell got us down to the lower teens for a couple of days. It'll be a lesson for us regarding what plants in this area are truly cold-hardy, as everything greens up from its winter dormancy. I've had calls about citrus, bananas, palms and other exotic tropical plants from their owners, asking me if they'll make it: Honestly, I don't really know. So much depends on a given plant's specific variety and microclimate in which it's growing. My barber's house, on the banks of the Neches River, probably benefited from being protected from the wind and having that warm body of water right next to it. Conversely, another site on an exposed, windswept hill not too far away may have fared considerably worse. 

As we watch and wait to see what plants made it, many gardeners have asked if it would help to cut plants back. It certainly may in a number of cases. Working precisely and carefully, take your hand pruners or loppers and make a few cuts into the branches of plants you're concerned about. Examine to see if you are cutting into dry, dead plant tissue that succumbed to the freeze, or a healthy limb that simply hasn't started its spring growth. Removing dead tissue won't be a problem - in fact, it's encouraged in all pruning endeavors.

Of course, I wouldn't advise cutting back any more than you would in a normal year. Outside my window, I can see some Meyer lemon cuttings that didn't make it, and my orange tree seems to have frozen back pretty good as well. The loss of that one hits me particularly hard, as it was a gift and a rare variety. 

Thinking about all of this has me wondering if gardeners in 1920 already had tomatoes in their garden or were trying to cultivate citrus trees in their yards while temperatures were still 27 degrees Fahrenheit. As for us country living folks here now, we simply have to watch and wait, keep notes and share with each other the lessons learned about what plants made it.

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Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. Contact him via email: cw-sims@tamu.edu.