I feel like I’m jinxing things every time I mention that winter seems to have skipped this year. It’s unlikely, but still possible we could have a blizzard any second and I’m feeling very spoiled by the mild weather. If snow should surprise us at this late date, at least it won’t last long. It might even be a good thing for the garden.
Snow’s Not So Bad
Snow, no matter what your personal feeling are about it, is actually your ally in the garden. It’s a great insulator. It ensures that frozen ground stays that way,rather than constantly thawing and refreezing. That just confuses plants and can even cause them to heave and push above ground..
Snow also releases nitrogen, something there is never enough of for plants.
This winter’s snow shortage left your plants completely unprotected against both cold, desiccating winds and the warm, sunny days we were all delighting in. Neither is particularly good for plants.
What No Snow and Cold Weather does to Your Garden
By far the greatest chance of damage comes from drying winds. WIth the ground frozen solid, the plants aren’t really taking up any water. So that same wind that dries our plants’ leaves in summer and helps protect them from fungal infections becomes a hazard in winter, desiccating bark, needles, and plant crowns.
What No Snow and Warm Weather does to Your Garden
The warm days thawed the top of the soil, as you probably noticed if you walked across your yard this past month. The ground felt very spongy, thanks to the warmth, the sun, and plenty of rain.
Thank goodness for the rain, because no snow cover and no rain would complicate matters even further. Thawing plants would be thirsty and if the drying winds didn’t do them in, the drought would.
Warm spells followed by a sudden drop in temperatures can even cause bark to split. Since we appear to be done with winter, I am hoping the damage is minimal and the trees will be able to heal themselves.
What to Expect this Spring
We’ve had both wintry cold and unseasonable warm days, so expect to see some plant damage. Anything planted last fall is especially at risk, because it will have the flimsiest root system. However even long established plants can be susceptible.
You’ve probably seen the leaves of rhododendrons curl and turn brown during excessive cold. Those leaves will fall off, but new ones should emerge. The same goes for other “evergreens” like azaleas, camellias and hollies.
Buds may start to swell and try to open early. That’s great – unless we have a late frost. Unfortunately, frost blasted buds may not recover and the trees are not going to set new buds at this point.
Cold damage isn’t always immediately noticeable. You might not know that leaves and buds have been injured until after they’ve opened. If they look kind of water-soaked or limp and suddenly turn black shortly after unfurling, blame the cold.
Plants damaged by winter drought and desiccation are often so weak that even if they do leaf out, they may die shortly after. Others may never leaf out, making you think they were killed by the cold, but more likely the cause is desiccation.
And all those daffodil bulbs that sprouted will probably put on less of a show. It’s amazing they survive at all, but they do. And they should fully recover, but not until next year. More disheartening to me is that my garlic also sprouted and since it’s grown as an annual, this year’s bulbs will likely be smaller.
What to Do Now
Be patient. Damaged and stressed plants may take their time leafing out. They may look dead, but they could just be resting. Wait until you see signs of new growth, before grabbing the pruners.
One last legacy of a warm, low snow winter is that lots of insects will have survived. They will probably be out early, so be on the watch for them while you’re doing your garden spring cleaning.