Icy Winter, Old Wood

February has given us winter after all. Woke up this morning to 10 inches in the hollow.

We are fortunate to have forsythia brighten inside as we gaze out upon the snow. Cut about a month ago, its old wood bears inexorable flowers, a lesson to us all.

Forcing is a lost art. I well remember it as a home project in elementary school – jars of branches lined up on the old dresser in our dining room –  but no one has patience or space anymore to let cut stems cure in water for a few weeks before they reveal their treasures. Not only spring flowering woody plants like forsythia, witchhazel, cherry, dogwood, and viburnum, but deciduous trees like maple, oak, and beech will unfurl their buds for you if you wait long enough.

Lord knows no one outside Boston has any right to complain this winter, but temps in the low teens and single digits remind us here in central Virginia that Zone 7 still means an average winter minimum of 0 – 10 degrees. Yet not all is dormant. Narcissus foliage pokes up bravely from old snow and Galanthus (Snowdrops) is stalwart. Witchhazel ‘Diane’ blooms ruby red against the white.

003Mid-February – typically, Valentine’s and Presidents’ Days – is the traditional time to prune back evergreen hollies to reduce size or shape for hedges or topiary: Chinese (Ilex cornuta), Burford and prickly ‘Rotundifolia’; Japanese (I. crenata) ‘Helleri’, as well as native inkberries (I. glabra). All can be cut back into old wood and hard pruned for size and shape this time of year. Wait until the snow melts and give them a boost with compost or Holly Tone to keep up a good dark color.

Spring will not come until March 21st with the equinox and proper alignment of the planets, yet the days have been getting longer since winter solstice in December and even in the bitter chill there is birdsong in the mornings and afternoons. Sparrows, chickadees, cardinals, junkoes, crows, bluejays, and bluebirds are active as the Earth stirs beneath her stillness.

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