When is the spring season these days? In February this year, Western North Carolina enjoyed warm, spring-like weather that made the tulips jump, buds swell and sap rise. Gardeners were out and about mulching and cleaning gardening beds of debris and leaves, wearily waiting for the cold to return.

To get ready for the cold temperatures, the Arboretum staff covered seasonal exhibit tulip beds with a thick layer (approximately 6-8”) of pine straw mulch. This layer protected the bulbs for the ups and downs of temperatures for a few weeks. Just before a steep drop in temperatures (gardeners seriously watch the weather), the Arboretum gardeners added a layer of microfiber-spun cloth, which was pinned into the soil and tied with a drawstring over several precious container garden plants. For days, the gardens looked like they were wearing hairnets while the temperatures hovered at or well below 32° Fahrenheit. This practice is necessary every spring, and for as long as I can remember, it has been part of gardening in the mountains. Some years, the freeze can be light and most plants survive. Other years when sap is already rising in trees, spring freezes can be deadly to plants.

Other than getting ready and moderating for temperature fluctuations, there are many garden tasks that need attention in spring, including cutting back grasses and old perennial foliage, attending to lawn needs, weeding and edging beds, taking soil samples, sowing early spinach, lettuces, turnips and sweet peas, making notes of areas that need new bulb plantings, pruning dead, diseased and dying branches in shrubs, vines and trees, transplanting early emerging hosta and daylily clumps to new locations, transplanting shrubs, planting new shrubs and perennials, and the list goes on and on. Over many years of gardening at the Arboretum and in my home garden, I have learned to pace myself project by project so that success and completion is realized with each gardening task.

I have also kept gardening notes over the years that I look back to from time to time. Yesterday in my own garden, I divided hosta clumps to share with another gardener, and I looked at those notes to find the variety names for each clump. I also glanced at the many plant names that I’ve planted over the years. Many no longer exist in my garden, but as my college professor J.C. Raulson was known to say, “If you aren’t killing plants, you aren’t really stretching yourself as a gardener.” At least Mother Nature and her killing frosts and I have that in common.

To learn more about the Arboretum’s garden exhibits, please click here.