(HOST)Gardeners pay close attention to the weather, and commentator Henry Homeyer says that’s true even during the relative inactivity of winter months.
(HOMEYER) January is over, and only once did I hear anyone say a single kind word about the weather.
Every year, it’s the same thing, people always say: “The weather is SO unusual this year”. Or, “It’s unseasonably warm.” Or “Where’s the snow? When I was a boy ….” But that’s OK by me, the weather gives us something to chat about at the grocery store.
As a gardener, the weather is always of concern to me. I accept whatever winter throws at us, but I do what I can to protect my plants.
Here’s my theory: I think wind is the real killer of trees and shrubs, not the cold. Whenever we get strong sub-zero wind for a couple of days, I lose woody plants – or their buds. Fruit buds on my blueberries and blackberries get burned off by cold winds, but survive the cold if it’s less windy.
It’s also my theory that the first three years of a tree’s life are the most critical. Once a plant is well established, it’ll do better than youngsters.
So I pamper young trees and shrubs during that break-in period. After that? They have to fend for themselves.
One cold night in January, when the wind was blowing hard, I got a flashlight and went outside to practice some preventive medicine on a young tree. I’d moved it in October, and it isn’t well established yet. I wrapped an old blanket around it, keeping it in place with a nylon strap. Then I spread some mulch hay around the base to protect the roots from extreme cold.
The other problem we may see, come spring, is the loss of perennials. In January, temperature see-sawed, rain flooded flower beds, and then everything froze solid. That’s a recipe for disaster. Most plants hate wet feet as much as we do. Roots rot, and lose their ability to respire in water or ice.
Not only that, water-logged earth that freezes and thaws is prone to producing frost heaves that can expose roots to air, drying them out. That’s as bad for roots as sitting in water.
You can knit a sweater for your favorite rose or wrap a new shrub in a blanket, but there’s not much you can do this winter for perennials that are sitting in water-logged soil. Come spring, you should keep an eye open for plants that have been lifted by frost. Gently push them back down, and add a little topsoil or mulch. And here’s another task for your “to-do” list this summer: add compost to improve the drainage.
I’ve lived in the tropics, and I like it better here. There are days with winds so cold my eyes run and my cheeks complain. But that just makes spring more welcome when it finally comes.
This is the gardening guy, Henry Homeyer in Cornish Flat, NH.
Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and columnist.