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Winter freeze may affect your spring blooms

In a few past columns, I have promised to follow up or keep you informed. So, look at this as a catch-up column.

I'm sure you remember that nasty freeze we had in December. That is still generating questions, so let's address that first.

While it is true that some plants did not survive that cold spell, it is quite amazing how many did, even if they suffered some damage to the tips of the branches. I'll use my daphne odora, which I thought at first was a goner, as an example. This shrub is a spring bloomer with a delightful fragrance, so I was really saddened when it promptly dropped all its leaves and in general looked awful. But my experience told me to use the wait-and-see method.

To my delight, new leaves began to show signs of emerging in February, and in late March enough blossoms opened to give me a whiff of their perfume. Bottom line: While most of the flower buds were killed, the plant itself survived. Even some of the endmost twigs are just now showing green leaf buds. I will wait another month or two to decide whether I need to prune it back a bit to keep it well shaped.

You may find this true of many spring-flowering shrubs, including rhododendrons — there may not be as good a display of color this spring because many flower buds froze, but if the plant itself survived, see how it does next spring.

On the other hand, the escallonia did not make it. I know that many of you had the same experience. Scraping back bark even on the lower branches revealed no green under the bark — it was all brown. I look at it as an opportunity to try something else that is more suited to the Rogue Valley climate.

Now to the sweet-potato experiment. You may recall that I invited you to sprout some sweet potatoes in water, then transplant the sprouts into pots, with the plan of setting them out in the garden in late May or early June.

I suspended three sweet potatoes in jars of water in February, and in March, two of them had lots of sprouts, so I cut out a generous portion of sweet potato along with the sprout and potted them so they could grow enough to go outdoors later. I discovered my first mistake when I grew a great crop of mold in the pots. As I slapped myself on the forehead, I realized I had included too much sweet potato with the sprouts, and that it was rotting and molding.

But remember that slow-sprouting third potato? This time, I left it in the water a bit longer, and gently broke off and potted just the roots and little leaves with them, not including any sweet potato. They are growing and looking healthy, so I may have learned something.

The last item today is in regard to a dahlia tuber that somehow escaped my attention and was quite dry and shriveled when I discovered it as I was checking my stored tubers this winter.

I decided to put it in some very moist soil and give it a shot at survival. I'm happy to say that it swelled, sprouted, and is now waiting for night temperatures to stay above 50 degrees so it can live outdoors. In fact, it is growing quite a lot in the garage. I have to prune it back every now and then to keep it from getting too leggy.

I love gardening, with all its ups and downs, mistakes and unexpected survivals, don't you?

Coming up: Chris Hubert will teach about summer care of grapevines from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 10, in the vineyard at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road, Central Point. The cost is $15. Call 541-776-7371 to sign up.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at diggit1225@gmail.com.