September 2017

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Kansas City gardeners have to be able to handle just about any kind of weather. After almost record rainfall and flooding, we now have to drag hoses around the garden because unseasonable heat and sun.

The chrysanthemums have come to the garden. We order hundreds of these colorful fall favorites to fill in holes where tired summer annuals need to be replaced. Warmer than usual temperatures will make the mums flower faster and finish faster, so we will replacing them with bulbs and our winter annuals before too long.

Volunteers removing Sunpatiens from the Kauffman Garden Allee

I was really kicking myself this year because I hadn’t been on any garden tours. There are so many in Kansas City and no matter how big or small, I always find inspiration from seeing what the imaginations of local gardeners have created. Sadly, most of these tours occur in the early summer, so I thought that I was out of luck.

This year the Marais des Cygnes Extension Master Gardeners in Miami County decided to hold a late summer garden tour entitled, ‘A September to Remember.’ I was pretty happy to see a lot of names and gardens on the list of tour stops that I recognized from reading The Kansas City Gardener Magazine.

I made no secret to anybody that I was very excited to visit Long Lips Farm, the garden of Lenora Larson in Paola, Kansas. She too was excited to show how glorious a midwest garden can look in late summer when the painted lady and monarch butterflies are in the garden.

Throughout the Long Lips Farm were outdoor rooms created by “walls” of trees, shrubs and large perennials. Close up, these rooms contained beautiful examples of caterpillar and butterfly host plants. Important specimens were labeled for both the plant’s identity and the butterfly or moth that it will attract.

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Fun signage about caterpillar host plants

Ms. Larson uses the color purple, artfully throughout the garden. There were many pieces of whimsical purple sculpture and purple plants. These were accented by colors like pink, red and orange, splashed around the garden to create focal points.

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Purple Power

Taking a garden tour is a fabulous way to meet and talk with area gardeners about gardening techniques, favorite plants and anything else that comes to mind.

I was very impressed to see how beautifully all of the gardens on the tour incorporated midwest native plants into an oasis for both man and beast. There is a lot of space in Louisburg and Paola and many of the the gardens were enhanced by animals, prairies for pollinators and luxurious outdoor patio areas.

The Spring Valley farm had a lot of hidden surprises in the back field. From afar it didn’t seem to be any other color than green.

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Edge of the prairie at Spring Valley Farm

Then when I walked on the paths mowed through the grasses and goldenrod there were so many butterflies.

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This butterfly is in camo in this grass.

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A skipper on a purple Kansas native flower

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A butterfly enjoying some nectar

After visiting most of the gardens on the tour I saw that every stop had butterfly information and often live caterpillars. It was overall a very beautiful and informative day.

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Signage about butterflies and pollinators.

I managed to see 5 out of the 6 gardens on the tour. If I didn’t have to run back to the Kauffman Garden, I could have made it to all of the stops. It was time to feed the cat her dinner and check on our own butterflies and butterfly friendly plants on a busy Saturday afternoon.

The pineapples were a hoot in the summer garden. Now the mums have taken their place. Every plant in the garden seems to be putting on its final performance before the frosts begin.

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August 2017

 

August keeps a Kansas City gardener very busy. This summer we had to deal with the near-record rainfall and unusually cool temperatures.

This was also the time for a much anticipated eclipse on August 21st. The garden was slightly busier than normal for a Monday, and after the event was over, there was a lovely garden to stroll through.

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Eclipse watchers on August 21st

Early on, someone told me “look, there are little eclipses in the shadows.” I thought that this person a was pulling my leg. Then when I was walking past the chocolate mimosa tree, the already lacy shadows had thousands of tiny “eclipses” in them. If I would have known this sooner, I could have checked out all of the plants that throw interesting shadows. I guess I will just do it the next time we have an eclipse.

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Little eclipse-shaped shadows

When we weren’t looking up at the sky, the gardeners and volunteers were pruning the China Snow tree lilacs in the Kauffman Garden’s entry allee. This is a yearly task where we sculpt the trees into a French-inspired upper hedge. Horticulturist Duane Hoover has always been inspired by the gardens of Europe.

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Duane is up in the bucket.

When I had my turn in the pruning bucket, I went up a little higher than the trees to get a birds eye view. There I saw Duane, watering atop the pergola. The pergola was planted with traditional plants like sweet potato vine, trailing vinca and trailing bidens.

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This year I chose the plants for the annual flower beds while Duane was in Hawaii on vacation. With his trip as inspiration, I made my plant order with all tropical or Hawaiian plants so that I could have my own tropical vacation every day this summer and not have to leave Kansas City.

It all started with pineapples. I had never seen them in a Kansas City garden, so we set out finding those first.

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Pineapple with Portulaca ‘Cupcake Grape Jelly’

Then I chose other bold colors and textures in plants like ‘Ruby Siam’ banana, variegated tapioca, taro root, portulaca ‘cupcake grape jelly’, colorful crotons, majesty palms and many other tropical favorites.

What I found out about pineapple was astounding. They have very specific water requirements and they prefer organic, natural fertilizers over synthetic ones. I also found it curious that most people assumed that pineapples grew on trees. They are indeed bromeliads that grow in the ground. They are also spiky so if you plant them, wear long pants and long sleeves!

August is also when Powell Gardens holds their annual Festival of Butterflies. This year the weather was great and the tropical butterfly room added more floor space to roam around and admire these beautiful insects.

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The tropical butterfly room at Powell Gardens

Back at the Kauffman Memorial Garden the monarchs and skippers were really enjoying the butterfly bushes (Buddleia) and milkweed (Asclepias) throughout the perennial beds. We even had one that was attracted to our fountain guy’s brush. He gave me a funny look when he caught me taking a picture of his brush.

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A skipper butterfly attracted to a bright brush

Since the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden is a Monarch Watch Weighstation, we allowed hundreds of tropical butterfly weed to grow throughout the perennial beds. Now we are enjoying gardening amongst the flutters of thousands of wings. The more nectar rich plants that you grow, the more butterflies and pollinators you will have visit your garden.

Gardening with butterfly friendly plants will not only enrich your garden, but it is also supposed to enrich your life. I can get behind that because I see these plants bring enjoyment to so many people every day.

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A monarch butterfly on a tropical milkweed (Asclepias curassavica)

July 2017

Before we get started: One of our summer interns is involved with the Master Gardeners of Kansas City. She just started working on their hotline and was worried that not enough people in town know that there is a hotline that people can call for free to ask gardening questions. This is an awesome service that also trains the local master gardeners to be able to answer all of the questions that we all have about our gardens.

Master Gardeners of Greater Kansas City Hotline (servicing Clay, Jackson and Platte Counties): Monday-Friday 9:00am-noon, there is also a 24 hour voicemail 816-833-8733

Extension Master Gardener Hotline of Johnson County Kansas : 8:30-5:00 Monday-Friday.   913-715-7050

Now for the blog!

July has shown us every bit of humid, hot and sunny weather that Kansas Citians are used to enduring. The weeds are growing just as fast as the zinnias and the Japanese beetles have not left us yet.

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Japanese beetles on a hardy hibiscus

Japanese beetles have been the topic of many discussions both inside and outside the garden. July is when they do their worst damage. This is because they need energy to burrow down into the ground in early August and lay their eggs.

We have experimented with a few different methods of controlling these flying insects. It is advised that all gardeners inoculate their soil in the early spring with things like milky spore or beneficial nematodes. This is one thing that all of the experts agree upon.

Once Japanese beetles are adults, gardeners have a few different methods that people can try to protect their garden. Every garden is different so there may be some methods that work better than others, depending on your personal situation.

Firstly, handpicking is the best way to know %100 that you got rid of that insect. We are still using our soapy buckets of water every morning and afternoon. There are even some plants like canna that we cut back. After removing the bloom stock, the beetles left these plants alone. When the beetles are gone in a few weeks the canna will just be starting to bloom again. These two methods, picking beetles and cutting back tasty plants, are both very safe and sound organic practices.

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This morning’s beetle picking bucket

We also have the option of spraying substances that the beetles can ingest that will either kill them or their spawn. The best organic sprays would be Neem oil, pyrethrins or pyganic. These must be sprayed at night when daytime temps are over 90F. A heavy spray during hot weather has the ability to cause damage, even the next day, so do a “test spray” on a small section, 24-48 hours before doing a large-scale project.

We try not to spray anything too nasty unless if it is an emergency. We want to protect the garden visitors that are human as well as insects, birds and furry critters.

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Princess Crazy drinking from a puddle

In the fight against Japanese beetles we also did a failed experiment using pheromone lure traps. Instead of following the directions on the packaging and from the extension office, we encircled the outside perimeter of the garden with pheromone lure traps. This was a bad idea and it increased the amount of beetles in the garden.

After talking with other gardeners around town, Japanese beetle lure traps should be placed downwind and at least 100 feet away from anything you want to protect. The directions on the traps that we acquired say that 30 feet is a fine enough distance. After this experiment and after talking with Mark from the Powell Gardens Heartland Harvest Garden, the best distance to hang your traps is 1/2 mile away. Us city gardeners don’t have the 1/2 mile option, but most of us can at least do 100 feet.

I am continuing a different version of the lure trap experiment in a much smaller way until the beetles are done for the season. I picked a spot downwind of the Kauffman Garden on the East/southeast side of the property and loaded it up with about 5 trap’s worth of pheromone. I also ran out of the official bags, but a delightful gentleman shared a youtube video where he used a plastic grocery store bag on his traps and it was working great for him. Recycling in action!

Other than beetles and bagworms, the garden is doing splendidly. The pineapples are making the guests very curious and the ‘SiamRuby’ bananas are getting taller and more striking every day.

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‘Siam Ruby’ bananas, zinnias, scaevola, pentas and other summer annual flowers at the Kauffman Garden

This also the time of year when we remember why caladiums are awesome. Some people skip them because these bulbs are tough to start in a greenhouse and they don’t emerge until after the soil starts to get warm. Don’t overlook the new types of sun caladiums. We planted the varieties ‘Aaron’ and ‘Florida Moonlight’ in the part sun/part shade of the entry allee.

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Caladium ‘Aaron’ and ‘Florida Moonlight’ behind sunpatiens in the allee.

In Kansas City we have seen the best results from sun caladiums by planting them in partial sun in stead of full blast open sun. They do tolerate quite a bit more than traditional, shade-only varieties.

As we get into the hot ending of the summer the flowers, trees and shrubs seem like an elaborate set dressing for the show that the butterflies, birds and bees put on for us. Give yourself a break from weeding and watering and enjoy the free show going on all day long in your garden and ours.

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A grasshopper taking a break

 

 

June 2017

If you didn’t already know, Beetlemania has hit Kansas City. This flashy sensation from across the pond (on the Pacific side) is taking the midwest by storm.

Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) are beautiful insects with a shiny, iridescent green and black heads. With wings that look like sparkly copper in the sunlight, these beetles are becoming increasingly destructive in our area of the country.

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A Japanese Beetle on a Magnolia grandiflora

 

The life cycle of the Japanese beetle is quite interesting. They emerge from the soil as grubs in early June to feed on our most beloved garden plants. Then, a little more than a month later, after mating, the beetles lay their eggs in the soil in early August, and are finished. This is when the eggs hatch into grubs that will remain in the garden soil until it is time to emerge the next June.

The short adult feeding stage is a scourge at the Ewing and Muriel Kauffman Memorial Garden. Some plants like Canna, Hibiscus and Magnolia are being munched through their flower buds.

Japanese Beetle on Bluebird Rose of Sharon

Japanese Beetle on Blue Bird Rose of Sharon

With other plants, the adult, feeding beetles will “skeletonize” the plant leaves. They eat around leaf veins, creating lacy damage. Some of the plants being effected this way in the Kauffman Garden are the Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus), Crape Myrtle (Lagerstroemia) and Birch (Betula).

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A skeletonized shrub

The University of Illinois Extension services tell us that there are over 300 varieties of plants that the Japanese beetle will devour. With such a diverse diet, it seems that they feed on different plants at different times of the month.

Early on, the beetles were exclusively feeding on succulent rose petals. Then as the season moved on, they preferred crape myrtle leaves. By late June they were hitting the canna hard, starting with the flowers and now onto the leaves.

With all of this damage, the gardeners and volunteers have to take action. The best and most effective measure to get rid of Japanese beetles is to pick by hand early in the morning, when they are groggy. There are many different methods, depending on your situation. Most gardeners can shake a branch over a bucket of soapy water, or hand pick and stick the beetles into a smaller, easy to use container, like a recycled yogurt tub with a lid.

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Climbing the ladder to collect Japanese beetles from the top of the wall roses.

It is important to kill the Japanese beetles with your soap bucket before you dispose of them and DON’T SQUASH them in the garden. They are highly motivated by pheromones and if you squash any beetles, you are just releasing more of the attractive chemical and inviting more beetles to the party.

Something new that we are trying this year are traps that utilize pheromones to attract the Japanese beetles. In the past we were afraid to use any traps because there is always the chance that they will bring in even more beetles than originally were there.

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Japanese beetle trap with beetles clamoring to get into the bag.

This year we reached a damage threshold where it was evident that we needed to do a little more than picking. Luckily, after a few days of using the Japanese beetle pheromone traps there was at least a %60 reduction in beetles within the garden walls. So they work fairly well, but we still need to do quite a bit of hand picking.

Japanese beetles feed on such a wide array of plants, that spraying chemicals, even organic ones, is not as effective as the hand-picking method for a couple of reasons. First, the beetles simply fly away, when the sprayer hits the plant. Also, the Kauffman Garden does not apply any chemicals when the temperatures are consistently above 90F. Hot weather after a chemical treatment will burn leaves and cause damage to the plants. This makes it very hard to spray in Kansas City.

One organic product that the Farmer’s Almanac recommends is good ole Neem oil. If the weather allows the opportunity, this is a good option. Unlike other organic sprays, Neem oil will stay in the beetle’s system and pass onto their eggs, eradicating them.

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Evidence of something eating Japanese beetles. Maybe a bird or a mantis.

We ALWAYS stress that even though organic gardening products are being used, sprays and organic chemicals can still adversely affect the butterflies and beneficial insects. In emergency situations chemicals are great, but only as a last resort and with the beneficial insect life cycles in mind.

In the garden, just as in life, curveballs like Japanese beetles will always pop up. With some patience, hard work and a few friends we will get by, grow and thrive.

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Summer perennial beds

 

May 2017

No matter what the calendar may say, May is the month in Kansas City where a gardener can really feel the change from spring into summer.

This month began with the annual flower beds still full of cool season flowers like dianthus, violas and pansies. This year’s winter and spring beds in the Kauffman Memorial Garden were inspired by the lumberjack look that is all the rage in the fashion world.

The front bed’s design represented a knit pattern, like what a lumberjack would wear in their hat. The Allee had long “boot laces” made of violas, and the main canal bed had a plaid pattern for the shirt.

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A plaid bed of mostly violas

Just as the spring flowers start to fade the large task of pruning begins in the garden. Below is a picture of Horticulturist Duane Hoover and one of our interns getting up close and personal with one of the garden’s Flowering Japanese crabapple trees. They get pruned very heavily in order to promote a unique branching structure and to increase light to the other garden plants.

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Duane up a tree

I found other friends in the garden while I was pruning. It was the nest of Brown Thrasher babies. Their mom and dad were taking turns feeding them worms and guarding the nest. Every time I would try to prune the climbing rose that the Thrashers had made their home in, I would get swooped at. One time one of the adults hissed at me like a goose.

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A Brown Thrasher in front of its nest

Brown Thrashers are in the catbird and mockingbird family, so they are known to have many different songs to sing, but the only one that I heard was their warning chirp. I believe that it was due to the close proximity of the cat at all times.

Kansas City is slightly north of the Brown Thrasher’s year-round habitat but we are in their known range for summer breeding. This is one bird that if you mess with it’s nest, they will fight you, so be warned. The rose pruning can wait and I have other pressing chores that don’t involve getting my eyes pecked out by an angry mama-bird.

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A Brown Thrasher taking food home to the nest.

One of the plants that steal the show while we are pruning the spring into summer is the ornamental onion (Allium.)  The bees, butterflies and garden guests can’t get enough of these members of the onion and garlic family.

We even planted allium ‘Gladiator’ in the flower beds in front of the Kauffman Foundation offices. Hopefully this brightens everyone’s morning while they are going into work.

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‘Gladiator’ allium, coleus ‘Main Street River Walk’ and Torenia ‘Kuai Dark Blue’ in front of the Kauffman Foundation.

Inside the Kauffman Memorial Garden the alliums buzz with lots of activity. They are loaded with pollen, yet they do not spread rampantly by seed, like other members of the onion family. The allium bulbs are planted in the fall around the same time as the tulips and daffodils. Dig a hole about twice the height of your bulb, plant, cover and enjoy in the spring.

We enjoy allium for the obvious aesthetic reasons as well as the time in which they bloom. While the roses, peonies and iris are getting pruned back, the alliums are going full force with their amazing structure and curious texture in the garden.

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Allium ‘Globemaster’ in the Kauffman Memorial Garden

Allium are found mostly in purple hues and occasionally in pink, white, yellow or green. The bigger the variety is, the more expensive, so beginning gardeners can start with smaller varieties like drumstick allium which are very affordable and easy to find at local nurseries.

The end of May is when the gardeners and volunteers replace the spring annual flowers with summer ones in the Kauffman Garden. This year we went very tropical with bananas, tapioca, taro and pineapples.

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A freshly-planted, tropical annual flower bed

Once the tropical plants are established, we expect them to thrive in our hot, sunny location. Mixed in with the larger plants we added celosia, Magellan zinnias and a firecracker cuphea for added color.

So far, everyone has been very inquisitive about the pineapples. They are already stealing the show.

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A tropical pineapple border

The weather is getting hot and the summer planting season is here. Don’t forget to stay hydrated kitties!

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Crazy Cat taking a drink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

April 2017

April is an amazing time to be in any Kansas City garden. The flora and fauna have come alive and everything seems to be singing the song of spring.

This is the second year that the Kauffman gardeners have had the opportunity to care for the main flower beds at the Kauffman Foundation headquarters. We truly appreciate everything that the Kauffmans have done for our city, so we try our best to make their flower beds as beautiful as possible. Considering the weather and climate in Kansas City, this is never an easy task.

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Tulip ‘Russian Princess’ and viola ‘penny white’ in front of the Kauffman Foundation

A wave of ‘Russian Princess’ tulips danced across the Kauffman Foundation main entrance with a combination of colors ranging from a dark magenta to a softer pink tone. This was our first try with this particular variety and it got a big thumbs up from the gardeners.

Another tulip variety that was new to us this year was ‘Silver Parrot’. It had a white variegated stripe through it’s leaves and a very striking pink color in the parrot tulip-style petals.

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Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’

Since pink was one of Muriel Kauffman’s favorite colors, we chose to plant the ‘Silver Parrot’ tulips all around her in the garden. This is a variety that will definitely show up again in future designs.

Speaking of birds, the ducks are back in the garden. Every April, mallard ducks find their way into the garden. They love to swim in the fountains and waddle around in the flowers until the cat spots them and they fly off to other midtown locations.

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A male mallard duck swimming and a female mallard watching for the cat. 

No matter how big or small, it makes a garden better by having features that will attract and benefit local wildlife. You don’t need an enormous fountain like we do at the Kauffman Memorial Garden. Birdfeeders, birdbaths and insect houses are a fun and easy way to make the animals feel welcome in your garden. In return for your kindness the garden animals will give you a better rounded ecosystem to live in and improve your connection to nature. In our modern world, that is always a blessing.

On the flip-side of encouraging wildlife into your garden, I also found a large goose waddling around in our community garden on the other side of the Kauffman Legacy Park.

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A goose in the community garden with an owl decoy in the background.

When you garden with wildlife you have to be thankful for the good and just laugh at the bad. I am just glad that the goose in the community garden wasn’t hanging out in my patch. Thankfully, our little Princess Crazy Cat pounces at the chance to keep the geese away from the Kauffman Memorial Garden.

Below is a recent picture that I took of our sweet garden kitty on the prowl. I snapped the photo just as a duck quacked overhead, so I am calling this the cat’s “duck face.”

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Spring is here! It’s time to garden and time to enjoy everything that we have been waiting all winter for! Let’s do this!

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Tom Corbin sculptures in the sunset

 

March 2017

I am beyond describing March in Kansas City as a lion or a lamb. We need to pick new critters for 2017. These animals need to be the craziest, most erratic beasts in the whole animal kingdom. I am thinking maybe a moose and a honey badger.

Every time the heat began to approach record high temperatures, the spring blooms would open up just a little bit more, then we would dip into the 20’s.  This can be unnerving for folks that remember what can happen when we have a hard freeze after all of the trees bloom and leaf out.

One tree that blooms early and often gets burned by frost is the Rustica rubra magnolia. This year we enjoyed a few weeks of their showy, dramatic blooms in the near 80 degree weather. Then the temperatures dipped and we went from hot, dark magenta petals to brown ones.

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Rustica rubra magnolia after a freeze in Kansas City

While the magnolia trees were getting zapped by cold weather, other garden plants seemed to not even notice the cold temperatures. Three of those were in the Rosaceae (the rose family.)

The flowers of the Japanese Flowering Crabapple along both sides of the canal garden have begun to open. Luckily, the small, tight buds are capable of handling a few late frosts without showing damage.

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Japanese Flowering Crabapple buds with snow

Another early blooming member of the rose family in the Kauffman Memorial Garden is the Toyo-Nishiki Quince.

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Toyo-Nishiki Quince in March

This espalier shrub is often the star of the garden in early spring. Every morning, after a cold night, we are amazed at the hardiness of these delicate-looking but tough little blooms.

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Quince with a dusting of snow

This year we had to cut back the roses very early as they were already starting to grow and leaf-out. It felt very odd to prune them back in the first week of March, but all of the garden signs were there to get the loppers out and start chopping.

Their leaves are just thick and glossy enough to withstand some of the colder night temperatures and a little bit of snowfall.

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The ‘Reeve’ English rose with a little snow

Behind the scenes, the gardeners have been busy watering dry spring plants that do not easily tolerate temperatures above 80 degrees. They have also been picking up flowers from the Powell Gardens greenhouse, to fill in holes where some of the cold-hardy annuals died.

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Horticulturist, Duane is unloading fresh shipment of violas and pansies from the greenhouse

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Princess Crazy Cat is managing the pansy delivery from a comfy spot in the Liriope patch.

Every year we plan on about 25-40% of the cold hardy annuals to fail. Surprisingly, this is not due to temperature, but to dehydration, salt damage or animal damage. This year we were pretty lucky and were able to hand-water during drought, there wasn’t as much snow, so there was less salt damage and we sprayed a homemade rabbit repellent twice as often. So when the warm temperatures began, the flowers started to grow and bloom early and there were less holes to fill in.

Along with filling in empty spots in the garden, we are also getting the insides of the fountains painted this spring. This has made plant care and watering an interesting challenge, as our largest annual flower bed borders our largest fountain.

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Fountain painters and gardeners working together to get ready for a busy spring

This year the gardeners have been watering a lot more than the usual for March. The cool season annual flowers are not equipped for the summer-like conditions that we have been experiencing this year. This means that instead of watering them once a week at most, some violas are begging for water every other day.

THANKFULLY, then there was rain!

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A much needed March rain and a happy gardener

The early season daffodils and hyacinth are already up and going. In the blink of an eye thousands of tulips of every color and variety will be blooming from one end of the garden to the other. Spring is here!

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‘Tahiti’ Daffodils