Carobs and cork oaks after a withering winter

In October last year, Storm Ophelia arrived in the UK. That marked the beginning of what has turned out to be a pretty tiresome winter for the cork oaks and carob trees.

Storm Ophelia was a complete novelty to me. Usually when hurricanes arrive in the UK they are cold and wet. Ophelia was hot and dry. Although it was October, the temperature rose above 20C with winds consistently above 50mph and gusting to 90mph and more.

The results of this on the cork oaks especially were severe scorch of the mature leaves and complete desiccation of all the growing tips: and there are a lot of growing tips on the cork oaks in autumn.

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This is the main growing tip (leader) of the oldest cork oak. The main damage was done by Storm Ophelia, compounded by the very cold weather and hard frosts we had throughout February 2018.
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Cork oak leaves severely Storm Ophelia

The story was similar with the carob trees, but they have suffered even more from the poor weather that has beleaguered us this winter.

Like the cork oaks, they had a lot of young growth at the start of the autumn (typical of many Mediterranean species – they have a spurt of growth in spring, sit out the summer, and then have another growth spurt in the autumn). As with the oaks, Storm Ophelia sucked the life from those fresh young shoots. But the carobs are still in pots and were, therefore, less able to stand the vagaries of the weather. It has been too cold, too dark and too wet for too long for them and they aren’t looking great.

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Carob leaflet scorched after Storm Ophelia
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The main growing tip of a young carob tree scorched by the storm and now infected with mo(u)ld (but notice the lovely new bud forming at the bottom of the picture)
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Mo(u)ld “flowering” on one of the dying carob stalks

However, although this sounds very negative, I am hopeful that most of the young trees are going to get through this. The cork oaks have sturdy root systems and, I hope, enough reserves to pull back from.

The carob trees, although they look pretty dire, do have plenty of potential new growth points and even a few new shoots springing up from low down on their stems.

Incidentally, I do leave the “dead, dying and mo(u)ldy” bits on the carob trees. I have found that cutting them out just spreads the dieback further and faster. By leaving them, provided the plant is strong enough, it should be able to compartmentalise the decay and stop it spreading too far: which,if my memory serves me well, is pretty much what they taught us at college – CODIT – compartmentalisation of decay in trees/timber.

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Winter damage: privet

The first two weeks of March were very mild here, spurring some plants on to make early growth. Fresh growth on privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) was particularly noticeable. But then, the third week of March brought a week of frosts and freezing winds.

It was at the beginning of April that I started to notice wilt and blackening on privets. My first thought was that it must be cold damage.

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Wilt and discolouration of new growth on privet, April 2017

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But then I wondered whether it might be something worse. It seemed the more I looked, the more I found wilting shoots of privet. I found them on all ages of bushes – from last year’s cuttings to gnarly old hedge plants – and on plain and variegated plants. I found them at the bottom of bushes and at the top; on plants that were pot grown, and plants in the ground. You can see in the pictures that one shoot would be wilted whilst its neighbour seems to continue in rude health.

In the end, it is the fact that the problem is so widely spread, especially that it is in pot grown cuttings as well as plants in the ground, that makes me think it must be cold damage.

For now, until I am sure that winter has finally gone away, I am leaving the dead shoots on the plants and will trim them over when better weather finally arrives.

 

Sleeping butterflies

A sleeping comma butterfly
A butterfly sleeping away the winter

I stumbled upon this sleeping butterfly while cleaning out an old pigsty.  It looks quite the worse for wear – covered in dust and slightly caught up in old spider webs – but hopefully, having made it this far through the winter months, it will survive and soon fly away.

Several species of UK butterflies try to survive the winter in their adult form. Of those, the most common are the comma, the peacock, the small tortoiseshell and the brimstone.

To learn more about how butterflies overwinter have a look at this page from the Butterfly Conservation website.

 

The earliest darkness of the year

In this corner of north Wales, today is the day when the evenings stop getting shorter. Although it’s still nearly a fortnight until the winter solstice and the shortest overall day length the sun won’t set any earlier than it does today – about four o’clock this afternoon. It always feels like turning a corner and heading into a new year from now on, even though it will be another 10 days or so before the evenings actually start staying light later: for the next 10 days it will be a four o’clock sunset everyday. And until the New Year, the sunrise will be a little bit later everyday.

Winter sunset over the dunes at Penrhos beach
Winter sunset over the dunes at Penrhos beach, Anglesey

So far this winter, we have only had the slightest touch of frost and many tender plants are still growing strong in the garden. Some of the deciduous trees and shrubs are still hanging on to a few of their leaves. This hazel is confused: next to this year’s leaf the bud that should open next spring is starting to burst already.

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