Patience has never been a virtue of mine, and this spring is testing every shred I have. The perennials are poky. My peonies are still just small stalks, with no buds in sight. My hydrangeas have a few new leaves emerging, but so far, they're tiny and tentative.
My junipers, usually a reliable source of evergreen color, are instead brown and crispy. I can tell the plants are alive -- there are areas with green needles -- but they're patchy and parched-looking, so ugly that I was itching to take the clippers to them and prune out the brown sections.
I resisted the urge, on the advice of Jeffrey Johnson, woody plant specialist for the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. "It's been a long winter, and people are frustrated," he says. "Landscape plants took a beating, and there's a lot of pent-up gardening energy." But even at the Arb, where there's pressure to get gardens looking good as quickly as possible, there's been very little pruning of brown evergreens.
"We're still taking a wait-and-see approach," he says. "This has been a very reluctant spring, and it's very difficult to tell where dieback stop and healthy starts. Even through the foliage is brown, there could be live tissue."
"The best thing to do for evergreens might be nothing at all," agrees Mark Stennes, a St. Paul arborist and plant pathologist. Cool wet weather like today's should help.
By next week, gardeners should have a much better picture of what they can safely prune, according to Johnson and Stennis. Look for new candles forming on the plants. "If you've got new candles coming in, you're fine," Stennes said. "If you don't see any buds swelling, it's toast."
In the meantime, try to ignore those ugly brown needles just a little longer.