Gardening in the Sky: Cutting Back on Winter

We normally think of cutting back last season's perennial growth as a preparation for spring, but this year spring began before we even started our annual Spring Cutback. In New York City, plants were about twenty-five days ahead of their normal schedule and many scientists believe spring's early arrival is linked to climate change. According to the New York Times, scientists from the group World Weather Attribution "found that a warm February like the one just experienced is about four times more likely in the current climate than it would have been in 1900, before significant emissions began to change the climate."

Crocus biflorus 'Miss Vain' and Crocus chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty' bloomed seventeen days earlier this year than in 2016

What does this mean for us here on the High Line? For one thing, bulb displays were up earlier. For example, the crocuses on the lawn started blooming on February 20th this year, as opposed to March 7th in 2016. In late February, with temperatures hovering in the 50s, and hitting 70° on some days, slugs came out and began eating some of the crocus blossoms. In many areas, we had to pull out last season's soggy plant material to reveal bulbs that would normally have been exposed during cutback.

We rely on the hard work of volunteers like Leslie Cortes (left) and Katherine Chan (right) to complete Spring Cutback. Photo by Rowa

As weather patterns change it becomes harder and harder to predict when to schedule Spring Cutback. In February, the gardeners were itching to start cutting back, but the volunteers we rely on to complete this massive task were not scheduled to begin until March 6th. In the first two weeks of Cutback we had the fickle weather characteristic of early March: warm sunny afternoons, bitter cold mornings, rain, and a snowstorm that buried all of the gardens and forced us to cancel over a week of volunteer shifts. While the snow itself was normal for this time of year, the weeks of warm spring weather which preceded it had tricked some of the plants into breaking dormancy too soon.

Some of our trees, like this crabapple (Malus floribunda), began to leaf out in late February. Such tender new growth can be damaged by sudden temperature drops.

As we scramble to catch up with our workload, we are also anxiously watching the plants that broke dormancy before the cold snap and wondering if and how their performance will be impacted in the season ahead. Everything in the garden, from Cutback to planting to design, is about timing. Trying to align the altered schedule of nature with that of human workers is becoming a major challenge for the gardeners on the High Line.

Our horticultural team counts on members and friends like you to help keep the High Line beautiful and thriving. Join our community of supporters who play an essential role in the High Line's most important gardening projects.

TD Bank is the Presenting Green Sponsor of the High Line.

Recent Posts
Plant of the Week: Sea Lavender
view post
Open Encounter: A Conversation with Brendan Fernandes
view post