This winter has tested our gardens
Late winter planting tips from a gardening meteorologist...
The mid-Atlantic is not an area I would consider hard to garden in, especially after growing up in the Plains. The climate here is reasonably moderate and rainfall is unusually evenly distributed throughout the year. In fact, this region is one of the very few in the U.S. or even in most of the world that has such regular moisture. However, this winter has presented more than a few challenges to we garden enthusiasts. Probably the one least noticed has been the significant deficits in precipitation over the past 3 months.
In most of the region deficits have averaged between four and six inches. For all those dormant plants, no big deal! However, for evergreens there is still a concern about stress, especially on those days when we get those spring teases as we have been seeing recently and are likely to see more of. This is most important for newer plantings that do not have an extensive root system to tap into the limited moisture. A bucket of water right now would certainly be a help to those plants.
For all of you that were hit with the "snow thump" a few weeks ago, I am sure you have some plants that were damaged. Now is a good time to get out there and make sure that broken or cracked branches are removed before it warms up and the trees or shrubs are more vulnerable to infestations and to give the plant a chance to fill in this spring.
In addition to the snow, the wind has been surprisingly strong on several occasions this winter. Many broadleaf evergreens are susceptible to wind burn in the winter. Magnolias are a good example. If you find these types of plants in your yard have lost a lot of leaves during the winter, they might need to be moved to a spot better protected from the wind. If moving is not an option, putting up netting around the plants for the first few winters can help protect the trees or shrubs.
If you are like me you can't wait to get those early blooming plants like pansies (a true misnomer) and violas in the ground right now. Most of mine actually went in during the late fall but regardless a once over of your shallow rooted plantings like these should be checked for frost heaving. That occurs when the topsoil freezes and thaws repeatedly and we are definitely an area that sees that a lot. The expansion of the ice crystals actually pushes the plants up out of the soil and can expose the roots to frost damage. All that is required is a good tamping down and putting mulch on top provides good insulation.
Speaking of mulch, keep an eye on our forecasts for another one of those upcoming warm days and take advantage of it to rake up old leaves and mulch that have gotten pretty compacted during the winter. This layer often becomes a barrier for efficient water absorption and hampers sprouting of bulbs and perennials. A fresh cover of mulch will keep the plants protected from those last freezes of the winter and able to soak up those needed rains right now.
Weather and gardening go hand in hand all year long so we will try to touch on the two and their relationships as we go through the seasons.
Capital Weather Gang meteorologist David Streit is also an active gardener. He earned a certificate in landscape design from the USDA Graduate School and volunteered many years at the National Arboretum.
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