The Free Press, Mankato, MN

June 11, 2013

Double whammy weather takes toll on all that grows

Drought, winter rains conspired to kill a kaboodle of greenery

By Brian Ojanpa
bojanpa@mankatofreepress.com

---- — Trees, shrubs, garden plants, lawns. Seemingly, no type of flora has been immune to the double whammy of drought followed by fickle winter conditions.

"Lots of dead stuff," lamented Joy Struck of Traverse Des Sioux Garden Center in St. Peter. "Almost everybody lost something."

There are a couple of reasons why grass gone brown didn't rebound and why many perennials, even established ones, cried uncle.

The most obvious is the dust-dry summer of 2012. The other kill factor was an odd January rainstorm that deposited water on frozen ground. The water that settled in low spots then froze, effectively smothering the turf.

Bob Weerts knows that all too well.

"I lost probably 20 acres on my sod farms," said the owner of Blue Valley Sod and Landscape. "People are asking me, 'What happened to my grass?' and I say, 'You should see what's happened to my sod farm.' "

Meantime, Weerts said demand for sod and seed is bullish as people scurry to regrow what nature took.

Struck said the drought/winter water freeze combo created a perfect storm for plant decimations. "Even some things that have been in the ground 30 years."

She said winter kill also claimed some garden center inventory. "We had a bunch of apple trees that leafed out this spring, then didn't go any further."

She said the business also has been inundated by customer returns of "insured" plants purchased last year that didn't survive.

However, said Sarah Malchow of Drummers Garden Center and Floral, people shouldn't be too quick to trash plants they presume are goners.

For one thing, plants are coming out of dormancy this year about six weeks later than normal. For another, a seemingly dead plant often isn't.

"Take a good, up-close look at your plants and see if they're budding out at the base," Malchow advises. "If they are, prune the plants back. Don't throw it out if growth is there."

Plants weren't the only victims of the woeful weather patterns. Malchow said one garden center customer who is a bee farmer lost a good share of his insects that were overwintering on a low spot.

When the winter rains froze, they essentially became bee-sicles.