Winter without snow can affect yards and gardens – Forum

Winter without snow can affect yards and gardens – Forum

Do you know why the lady was standing in the middle of her courtyard with her handbag open and held high? I heard some change is coming in the weather.

I can’t imagine anything having a greater impact on our yards and gardens than the weather. Lawns, flowers, vegetables and trees are all at the mercy of the elements, with plants withstanding drought, floods, frost, summer heat and winter cold. Weather can make or break the growing season.

I know this has all happened before, but our current weather seems unusual with little to no snow on the ground to cover the landscape, perennial flowers, strawberries, and all plants that benefit from winter protection.

Snow is a natural winter buffer, and most of our plants are accustomed to at least a layer of protection from the snow when colder temperatures arrive. According to researchers at Rutgers University, 9 inches of snow can create a temperature difference of 42 degrees between the air and the surface beneath the snow.

If the air temperature is 20 degrees below zero, and you have 9 inches of snow, the perennial’s temperature at ground level is 22 degrees above zero, which is a considerably more moderate temperature. Thin snow has a greater insulating value than packed snow, due to the air trapped between the flakes.

A winter with little or no insulating snow can cause landscape plants to winter hard.
David Samson/Forum

What will happen if we don’t get snow? A winter with little or no snow is called an “open” winter, and it can be devastating to trees, shrubs and perennial flowers. If temperatures remain relatively mild, snow shortages may have less of an impact.

But if next winter temperatures drop well below zero, extreme cold could penetrate deep into the barren ground. The root systems of plants cannot withstand the same extreme cold as above-ground branches.

Roots can be permanently damaged when a lack of snow allows hail to sink deep. Damaged root systems can lead to partial infection or death of the entire plant.

Open winter carries another danger to plants besides the cold penetrating the soil. A lack of snow can cause dark soil to thaw on mild, sunny days and then refreeze when temperatures drop at sunset. This freeze-thaw cycle can lift perennial roots or entire underground structures out of the ground.

After an open winter, it is common to see the underground parts of perennials such as irises and daylilies emerging from the soil and lying exposed near the surface. The roots are torn in the process, and perennials can be lost.

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Another victim of the open winter can be our lawns, which can suffer mild injuries from exposure to low temperatures. Most susceptible to damage are lawns that have been mowed below the recommended final mowing height of 2 inches.

Gardeners are good at dealing with the weather in good times and bad, and do what we can to minimize risks. Should we do something now in early winter to help our plants?

A crystal ball will be helpful in predicting what the rest of winter has in store for us. Without that, we have many options. Doing nothing is an option, letting the winter flakes fall where they may. Survival of the fittest, in terms of plants.

Or we can hedge our bets by laying down extra protective mulch, in case it snows in the future. The most susceptible to open winter are perennial flowers, roses and fruits such as strawberries.

To add additional mulch over and around sensitive plants, look for leaves that may be lying in corners of the yard that can be raked and moved. Straw bales are being advertised inexpensively on social media sites in many areas. Garden centers may have wood chips in stock.

Any depth of insulating mulch will help, but 12 to 18 inches is a good goal. To prevent blowing leaves or straw, moisten the top layer of mulch with a pitcher or pail. The mulch surface will soon freeze and be resistant to the wind.

If snowfall arrives but is light, we can shovel what we receive onto perennials, berries or shrubs. Snow blowers can be used to direct snow over cold-sensitive plants when clearing sidewalks and driveways.

There is not much we can do to protect our lawns from winter injuries at this point. Lawn mixtures often include some species, such as perennial ryegrass varieties, that are less tolerant of open winters. This may result in some thinning of the grass, but the primary types of Kentucky bluegrass are winter hardy.

What will the coming months bring? Time will tell.

    (tags for translation) Don Kinzler 

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