Aiming for resilience in garden plants

Gardeners in Henry County could use some encouraging words, or better yet, some encouraging weather!

I write this on a snowy day. As I look over the forecast for the week ahead, I see expected high temperatures from 44 to 70 degrees. Apparently our challenges will continue.

The most encouraging counsel that I can offer is to look to the resilience of plants. I have stepped outside on some recent mornings to find snowdrops flat on the ground, only to see them standing straight in the cold sun later in the day.

I make it a habit in April to check on the spring ephemerals in our woodlands. I can report that I have found foliage of spring beauties, Dutchman?s breeches, wild geraniums, and bluebells, all lying close to the ground, with not a bloom to be seen. In the wisdom of the plant world, they will bloom when they can.

This extraordinary resilience in both wild and cultivated plants may encourage us a bit and remind us to do everything we can to foster resilience.

That starts with caring for our soil, replenishing it with organic matter that offers physical, chemical and biological benefits.

We can also look for resilience in the plants that we select. Native trees, shrubs and perennials will have experience with our climate and soil types encoded in their very being, so they are likely to be the best-prepared to handle the full range of conditions that southern Iowa can throw at them.

Plant health and stage of development also contribute to resilience. So often we are tempted by already-blooming petunias or impatiens or by tomato plants that already sport green globes.

However, the root system matters more. Ideally, you want plants that have put their energy into strong root systems that will carry the plant through changing conditions.

However, check to be sure that the root systems are fresh and that the plant is not pot-bound.

As you shop, try to avoid perennials that are blooming out of season. That coneflower or daylily that has splendid flowers in mid-April will not perform well in your garden this year.

If you are investing in new trees or shrubs, try to determine where they were grown. A tree that is healthy here but was actually grown farther south may not do as well as one that was grown nearby, or at least in the same zone.

It goes without saying that we cannot control the weather we experience. However, we can at least do our part to support the wonderful resilience of plants.