What ‘The Winter that Never Was’ Means for Gardeners

 

For most of us in the United States, this year’s winter season has been almost non-existent. The warm weather may turn some of us into spring dreamers but with temperatures reaching record winter highs, what does it mean for gardeners and their beloved plants?

Due to the uncharacteristically warm temperatures this winter, plants are beginning to sprout, grow and bloom. The biggest concern for these early bloomers is late cold temperatures or a late winter storm. So far, winter damage is very minimal but a late cold spell or storm could greatly harm young, tender new growth. In the case of late winter weather, most plants will be able to slowly recuperate but many flower buds may die, causing a smaller harvest for fruit growers.

Overall, if a late cold snap does occur, the health of your garden will depend on the type of plants growing in your garden. Fruit trees and grapes are more fragile and a cold snap may damage or kill a great deal of their flower buds, reducing flowering in spring and fruit harvests later in the season. Blueberries and strawberries have late reactions to warming weather and will most likely not be affected but raspberries and blackberries have earlier reactions to warming weather and a cold snap could cause severe damage resulting in the loss of the crop for the year. Trees and shrubs that require a cold period to break out of dormancy may flower less this season, but their overall health will not be greatly affected. Perennial flowers should also pass through winter with flying colors because they are low to the ground and protected by the earth, mulch and leaves. This warm winter was great for those planting ground covers and cool season vegetables but vegetable growers should keep a close eye on their veggies this summer in search of pests that they may not have had to deal with in years with cooler winters.

Another major concern is the early awakening of hibernating animals and the effect of the warm weather on their populations. Make sure to protect your most precious plants with fences and covers. Early rising animals will be extremely hungry and looking to scavenge any food they can find, add to that an expected doubling of the deer population due to an early mating season brought on by spring-like temperatures.

What about an increase of disease-causing fungi, bacteria and hungry pests? Fortunately, Mother Nature has a way of brining balance back to the earth. These warm temperatures have no real effect on the harm that bacteria and fungi can cause; requiring cool, moist temperatures in the spring and summer when plants are at their peak to cause real damage. Beneficial bugs will benefit from the winter that never was just as much as harmful pests, keeping the good-to-bad-bug ratio in check.

Higher than normal temperatures may also cause plants to dry out through evaporation but because the ground has remained unfrozen, plants are able to draw moisture from the soil and roots will have a chance to reach out for water sources with early growth, which may counteract this problem.

This may sound like plenty to worry about but changing temperatures and controlling weather is beyond human control. Take a walk, eat al fresco and enjoy the uncommonly enjoyable winter weather. This is also a great opportunity to get a big head start on all of those garden chores.

 

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