2021 proved to be a record breaking year wherever one gardens. While gardeners are notorious about complaining about the weather 2021 proved to be extraordinary across much of the planet. Usually I brush off little brushes with irregular weather – after all, I live and garden in New England – but last year proved to be noteworthy in many ways.
Without going into great detail, for us, June brought record-breaking heat as it did across much of the US and along with it, drought, which continued from the previous year. My sweet pea plants seemed to suffer right from the start, but since I had a feature article being planned for Fine Gardening magazine, hundreds of plants were set out in tidy rows in hopes of an epic photoshoot later in early July.
In late May our heat wave began, and while a few days near 90° F aren’t unusual by early June, consecutive days near or over 100° F was unheard of. In an attempt to keep the pea plants cool I placed sprinklers in the beds to cool the plants down during the hottest part of the day. Sweet peas prefer temperatures that are both consistent and cool to avoid bud drop and while I expect bud drop (yellowing buds that drop is normal in the first few weeks of June when nights are typically cool and day temps high), this time I could see that it was going to be different. Just as old gardening books advised (but I had never seen before) the water from the sprinklers basically cooked the new emerging foliage which looked as if I had dipped then in boiling water. Any buds naturally dropped off as well.
By the time my date for the big photoshoot came about the weather had shifted to another record breaking cool and wet period, but the plants never recovered. A few dozen blooms arrived early in late June, but by July the weather changed for what seemed like a welcome wet period with cool temperatures, but there can be too much of a good thing. By the third week of July we had 24″ of rain and one sunny day. Typically this would be ideal sweet pea weather, but it was too late. The plants never produced any more flowerbeds. I’ve been raising sweet peas since the late 1980s and this has never happened before. Out came the pea plants and in went dahlias that I had been keeping in pots until then.
By mid-summer it was clearly a record-breaking year in many ways. The never-ending rain caused another problem that I had never seen before – denitrification. The lack of oxygen in the constantly soggy soil made nitrogen unavailable to many plants. Additional fertility had to be added, but again, it was too late for most plants. Hundreds of cosmos, zinnias and other annuals that might be considered fool-proof that were sown in June and set out as healthy, robust young plants in July all stopped growing, and eventually just rotted. Tomatoes in conatainers never set fruit – out of 36 plants we had only a handful of tomatoes, although, the hot weather in June didn’t help as tomatoes won’t set fruit if temps are over 96° F. What fruit did set, seemed to succumb to blossom end rot.
There were plenty of wins though, so it wasn’t all bad news in 2021. Other than tomatoes, other container plants enjoyed the wet weather (hey, I really wasn’t complaining given what California and the west was dealing with this year). Rain every other day meant that I had to fertilize pots more, but I hardly had to water anything.
Clearly I haven’t been posting much in the past year, mostly this was due to transferring what is an already content-rich blog from Blogger to a new WordPress platform, and me learning how to navigate an entirely new system. I think that I finally have it all here, and while I am still learning all of the bells and whistles (ugh- SO many bells and whistles now!), I think I can begin to run with posting. It’s just hard learning a new process after the older one became innate for me. SO please bear with me.
In the next post I will cover some of my favorite wins from last year (yes, there were plenty), and while none of them will feature squash or tomatoes, get ready for some new and exciting flowers that I never knew existed as well as some great container plants that maybe you can use this year.