Gardens of the Cross Timbers: The aftermath

Becky Emerson Carlberg
Contributing writer
The former red holly berries

The lady at the store exclaimed it was the week from hell and a week of blessings. They had twenty calves born during the historic frigid snowy week, with eight arriving on Tuesday, the day temperatures plunged to minus 14 or 15. They collected each calf and took it back to be dried and warmed. When strong enough, the calves were returned back to their mothers. Each cow immediately recognized her own calf.

As the snow rapidly receded and soaked directly into the soil, it became clean-up and access damage time. The melting snow left the bird droppings exactly where they landed: all over the back patio, the outdoor furniture, the ceramic ornaments, paths and even the front porch. Working with the available slurry of wet snow and broom, I scrubbed down the furniture, swept the patio, uncovered the walking stones and cleaned the front porch. Three days of intense sweeping made things more presentable.

The greenhouse heaters are now turned off on sunny days. The propane heater was stored. The third oil radiator in the larger greenhouse was put back into the house.

Two birds were fluttering about inside the lemonary. They found a way in through the open vents on a warmer day. Door was opened. They were out in a flash. The aloes and lemon trees did not like the extended freeze.

No pruning yet for outdoor plants. Must wait and see what survived, like the rosebush by the front door. The leaves on the three rue plants turned from vibrant green to straw brown. Common rue, Ruta graveolens, is native to the Bosnia area which can drop to minus 4 or lower in winter, so there’s hope. The holly leaves were damaged and all the previously red berries are now pitch black. The invasive Chinese Privets don’t have any living leaves, not necessarily a bad thing. Some slash pines are lush and green, others have winter burned needles and a few may have died but just don’t know it yet.

Big time winter burn

The eastern redcedars look great. Eastern redcedars are the trees that should be selectively used in landscapes (please no apple or hawthorn trees nearby unless you like cedar apple rust). They can endure the extremely cold to unbearably hot in Cross Timbers. Remove the lower dead branches to reveal a gray trunk which becomes more interesting with age. The native redcedars are no different than other landscape pines or evergreens, except hardier.

The bagworms may be less a problem this spring. Severe cold as we just experienced kills bagworms and their eggs. The dangling spindles now appear dull brown. Winter birds know the bags contain food. They can be quite adept at ripping open the bags and harvesting the eggs.

Before the bitter cold hit, a little experiment was done using one container full of recently detached bagworms. The bags were buried in a trench, covered with soil and marked by a red flag. Two days later, the entire trench had been excavated. Nary a bagworm case remained. Nice thing about my Wildscape #34. Despite the fact that critters roam at night (skunks, raccoons, opossums, armadillos) and rotor rooter the yard in search of worms, grubs and plant roots, there are unseen benefits. Should have buried all the bagworms pulled off the junipers!

Have you checked your bluebird boxes? A University of Oklahoma professor checked his four bluebird boxes and found frozen/thawed/dead birds in three of them. The wildlife in the southern region took a huge hit during the deep freeze and snow. Starving bats burned through their reserves and were wiped out. Gray catbirds, robins, bluebirds and other songbirds turned up dead on sidewalks and yards. The small hermit thrushes, only in Oklahoma for the winter and often forage in leaf litter with the juncos, died in the frigid cold. Fish kills, especially shad, may affect crappie, bass and walleye populations in Oklahoma lakes and ponds. Milkweed plants may be stunted, affecting the number of hatching Monarch eggs and larvae. Even the Sea turtles were stunned and paralyzed in the exceptionally cold Gulf water. It’s bad any way you look at it.

But…..the turkeys look good. The rafter, flock or gang of turkeys number over thirty. A rafter is a technical term which often refers to a collection of two to forty domestic turkeys. A gang applies to over twenty turkeys. I’ll stay with flock.

Now the snow is gone, every day the flock of turkeys wander about and dine in the field of fresh sprouting grass. A number of young toms strut around, fan their tails and show their iridescent feathers to all. The females and juveniles keep grazing while the toms dance and prance. One day I carried no phone. The next day, phone in hand, I saw the turkeys over past the row of hay balls in the distance. The third day they were a bit closer, along with a deer. All then moseyed off behind the woods. Fourth day they were within watermelon seed spitting distance (in 2017 Jason Schayot spit a seed 75 feet 2 inches) and stared at me while my cold fingers fumbled with the cell phone. Three stood with necks stretched into the air for a profile shot. Another chased a squirrel running around the gang. No toms displayed their magnificence. After being sufficiently bored, the flock ambled off toward the creek.

March stirs gardening fever. The February 2021 Oklahoma Garden Planning Guide HLA-6004 was just published. David Hillock and Brenda Sanders from Oklahoma State University give advice on choosing the site, garden planning, tips, avoiding mistakes and include an extensive planting guide which should set everybody straight on what, when, and how to garden. March is a good month to plant trees, shrubs, berries and grapes. Good luck!

The meteorological first day of spring was March first. The astronomical first day of spring arrives March 20t as the vernal equinox. Vernal means fresh or new. We’re ready.

The first Saturday in March…that’s today….is National Oreo Cookie Day. Things are getting better.

The turkey flock

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at