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Posted at 11:45 AM ET, 02/24/2011

This winter has tested our gardens

By David Streit

Late winter planting tips from a gardening meteorologist...

Precipitation departures from average (percentages) over the past three months. Source: High Plains Regional Climate Center

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.

By David Streit  | February 24, 2011; 11:45 AM ET
Categories:  Environment, Latest  
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My spring blooming camellia is covered with fat flower buds, some showing color. This has happened a couple of times in the past. If we get a real nasty cold spell the coloring buds will fall leaving the less mature hanging on for real Spring. If it's mild from now forward I will have a bumper crop of flowers.

Posted by: tbva | February 24, 2011 11:58 AM | Report abuse

It's nice to know that CWG has a gardener in the bunch.
Need rain. And a chainsaw.

Posted by: FIREDRAGON47 | February 24, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

Wonderful to have some gardening information here. I hope there will be lots more. My one and only complaint about the Capital Weather Gang is the lack of easily found precipitation statistics - maybe that could be added to the Almanac so we can see how we're doing. Thanks for writing, David. Do it again and again and again...

Posted by: ljrwilliams | February 24, 2011 12:40 PM | Report abuse

This winter has wreaked havoc with a number of my broadleaf evergreens. The combination of wind and a general lack of rain/snow can be deadly to hollies, laurels, etc. I've tried to water them when the temps have risen above 40 during the day, but they have sustained quite a bit of damage in the form of "burned" foliage.

Posted by: FH59312 | February 24, 2011 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for this post, I hope there are a lot more in the future!

While I grew a lot of vegetables in my balcony garden, this is my first year with a yard to play with.

Posted by: megamuphen | February 24, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse

My rosemary plant, bought from tom debaggio 15 years ago, is now as large as the toyota. It laughed at this winter, likes drought conditions, can handle a -10 morning

Posted by: pvogel88 | February 24, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

I have a feeling this summer is going 2 b another hot dry one, & getting a lot of rain over the next 3 mons. will b welcomed. This prolonged dry weather is definetly bad for people like me who have wells.

Posted by: VaTechBob | February 24, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Thanks David, I too enjoyed the post, and seeing other gardeners on here and am also concerned about the deficit of rain we've been experiencing. Does this make us part of Bombo's dreaded "much needed rain" crowd?

Posted by: ftwash | February 24, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Thanks everyone for the kind words. I look forward to having more gardening discourse with you all through this year. Please let your gardening friends know about this. I welcome questions and all your commentary. and yes ftwash we are indeed the dreaded much needed rain crowd!

Posted by: davidstreit2 | February 24, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

As a Master Gardener Trainee and a follower of CWG I look forward to more of these articles. Weather is such an important part of gardening, that's part of why I follow it so closely. Thanks for a great job.

Posted by: worldtraveler83 | February 24, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

We desperately need RAIN, Bombo's dance schedule be damned. It does not bode well for water supplies or our landscapes if our current Abnormally Dry and Moderate Drought designations worsen as we head into summer.

I will continue to lead the hue and cry for my fellow 'MNR' crowd, and am grateful to know that there are others as equally anxious and concerned.

Thank you for the timely article, David.

Posted by: TominMichiganParkDC | February 24, 2011 5:26 PM | Report abuse

It's raining! Yay!

Posted by: FIREDRAGON47 | February 24, 2011 6:22 PM | Report abuse

An idea for your next gardening-related weather post: is last frost getting earlier? When should we expect it this year?

Posted by: mattandeliz | February 24, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

A garden blog in CWG? Love it!

BTW - Pussy Willow is budding. Oh, happy days!

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | February 24, 2011 7:57 PM | Report abuse

I'm sure I'm not the only one who got funny looks outside watering my plants in January!

Hopefully this spring isn't as brutally hot as last year. That early April heat wave absolutely decimated my peas!

Posted by: Registration1982 | February 24, 2011 8:49 PM | Report abuse

David- Awesome! Keep these posts coming. Real value-add for CWG.

Posted by: dprats21 | February 26, 2011 6:54 AM | Report abuse

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