The Warm Winter of 2010 and how it may affect our gardens

March 18, 2010 at 4:01 pm Leave a comment

To the delight of many North Americans, the winter of 2010 will be remembered for its unseasonable warmth and a general lack of snow.  According to senior climatologist David Phillips this has been “the warmest and driest winter on record for 63 years” ( Elliot, 2010).  Many people have been happy to see their snow shovels and winter parkas collecting a thick layer of dust over the past couple of months.  The bad news is that the warm winter this year may have an effect on our gardens.

Snow, in any amount, provides moisture to our soil and in addition is a good insulator.   As a result of the minimal snowfall this past winter, soil microorganisms, which are essential to breaking down organic matter and aerating the soil, would cease their activity.  In addition, insufficient snowfall in the winter months means less moisture in the soil.  Unfortunately, this means that this year gardeners may be planting in drier soil than normal.  Working with drier soil means that the hose will be required more frequently and that can pose a problem in itself.   Water shortages as a result of lower levels of water in our lakes and rivers can be expected to cause conflict with plant’s needs and the need to conserve water.

Regular snowfall also plays a pivotal role in protecting plants from the freeze-thaw cycles that normally occur during the winter months.  Snow can also act as an anchor for recently planted perennials and trees.  Less snow on the ground means garden plants, and the soil that surrounds them, are more susceptible to the uprooting effects of that the freeze and thaw cycles that are typically experienced in winter.  Normal winter snowfall levels also provide plants with protection from the effects of frost.  Frost can get deeper into the soil due to a lack of snow, and as a result possibly damage tree and shrub roots.

The lack of snowfall this winter is not the only potential threat to gardens this year, as the above seasonal temperatures can also wreak havoc in the garden.  Some flowers and trees have been tricked by Mother Nature into thinking that spring has arrived.  Bulbs such as daffodils and tulips could start to bloom too early, and as a result could be killed off immediately by a sudden drop in temperature (i.e a cold snap).  In addition to potentially ruining flower gardens, these atypical temperatures may also have a negative impact on fruit producing plants as well.  Many flower buds are killed off by a drop in temperatures and that means fruit trees may produce fewer fruit.  In general fruit trees need a certain amount of cold weather before warmer temperatures can cause them to break bud and flower (Cornell University, 2010).

Humans are not the only things that enjoy these unseasonable winter temperatures. Pests and diseases may be more abundant then in previous gardening seasons as a result of not being held in check by the cold weather (they are able to survive the mild temperatures).   More mosquitoes and other garden nuisances will possibly be out and ready to cause trouble for you and your garden.    Gardeners should be aware of these changing environmental conditions and be prepared for the unexpected this gardening season.

References

Cornell Unversity. 2010. “ Will Warm Winter Wither Plants”    http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/warm_winter/index.html

Accessed on Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Elliot, Ian. 2010. “ Driest Winter on Record”   http://www.thewhig.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2491347

Accessed on Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Author: A. Mohamed

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Entry filed under: Gardens, Pests, Water, Winter.

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