It’s almost Christmas and it feels more like Easter. By now I think we all realize we have an El Niño is paying us a visit. Whether you love the warm weather or are wishing for snow, just think of how your plants feel. They are totally confused. That’s the point I ponder this week.
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I usually start the podcast by saying it’s tips from New York’s beautiful valley region, but beautiful might be stretching it this week. We’re now officially in winter, although it feels a lot more like a miserable day in late spring. I should be happy it’s so warm, but the sky has been dreary and the rain and drizzle aren’t putting me in the holiday spirit.
We’re in the peak of El Niño. El Niño was first identified by some fishermen off the coast of South American, way back in the 1600s. They noticed the waters were unusually warm in the Pacific, which meant the fishing was not good. The name El Niño means Little Boy or Christ Child in Spanish and was given because it was right around Christmastime that it was first noticed.
Together with La Niña, the phase when the waters are unusually cool, they make up the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, which is a term they gave to the temperature fluctuations between the ocean and the atmosphere in east-central Equatorial Pacific, which is kind of the coast of Colombia and stretching west.
El Niño and La Niña can be expected to make an appearance every 2 – 7 years and last anywhere from 9 – 12 months. El Niño is a more frequent visitor than La Niña. We’ve been experiencing an El Niño event since last March. It’s been building in intensity until now and should start petering out in the early part of 2016. Some scientists are predicting it could be one of the most intense El Niño events in decades. I’ve even seen it referred to as “Godzilla El Niño”, online.
El Niño can wreak havoc all year, but we tend to notice it most in the northeast during the winter, when the temperature remains unseasonably warm, like now. In other parts of the country, especially the gulf coast, it causes wet weather, and the Pacific Northwest can usually expect drier than normal weather. So being warm doesn’t seem to be such a bad option. A really big plus is that El Niño tends to mean fewer and less intense hurricanes forming over the Atlantic.
What does this mean to your garden?
❦ Well, you’ve probably noticed that the ground is pretty soft. That means all this rain is making it down to the plant roots. As long as the temperatures stay warm, the biggest problem is that your plants might not remain dormant and could be injured by a sudden cold snap. Let’s just hope the rain doesn’t get to the point where we have to worry about rotting.
❦ It also means that we should go easy on mulching. Winter mulching is meant to be done after the ground freezes, to prevent repeated freezing and thawing and the heaving it can cause.
❦ The warmer temps can also cause your fall planted bulbs, including garlic, to sprout. There’s not much you can do about that. It will diminish flowering and bulb production somewhat, but that’s nature.
❦ We’re better off than folks facing drought conditions or those in normally dry climates who are losing succulents to incessant rain. We should be taking advantage of the warm weather and keeping an eye for plants that look like they need a little extra protection or that may be getting eaten, since there’s no snow cover to hide them.
❦ And if you’re really hardy stock, this is still great weather to be tackling perennial weeds.
Although climate scientists have gotten pretty good at predicting when we should expect El Niño and La Niña, they are still unsure what causes them. They think it has something to do with trades winds weakening in Asia, which causes warm water to surge through currents and find its way to South America, but nothing definitive yet.
At least we’ll have good traveling weather for Christmas and New Year’s . I hope you enjoy the holidays to the fullest and that 2016 turns out to be a winner for you. Don’t forget to pick up your free copy of Secrets to a 4 Season Garden. The form is to the right of this article. This year we may be seriously gardening through winter, who knows.
Merry Christmas to all of you.