Let’s talk about the weather

The winter of 2006-07 began as a bit if an unusual event. It had been hovering in and around the freezing mark, with only a few cold snaps, and we’ve had more rain than snow so far this season.
From a human perspective, this has been an enjoyable winter so far. But how about looking at the weather from the perspective of a plant?
The summer of 2006 left Rainy River District in a drought situation. And with little fall precipitation, the situation has not improved.
For those gardeners who watered their perennial beds and trees and shrubs on a regular interval until the end of October, your plants should be frozen into the ground quite well while your trees and shrubs should have hardened off for winter in a less-stressed phase.
But for those gardeners who left the fall watering up to Mother Nature, you will find your perennials may not be securely frozen into the ground at this point in the winter.
The ice storms over the Christmas holidays only created a layer of ice around the plants and did not help them to freeze securely into the ground.
While some of the precipitation from December has soaked into the ground, precipitation at this time of the year does not fully rectify a drought situation, which will put your perennials and trees and shrubs into danger come spring thaw.
Because the soil was extremely dry prior to winter freezing temperatures, there may be air pockets in the soil around the roots of your plants. When spring thaw or a premature winter thaw takes place, the roots of your plants can be very susceptible to premature thawing before the growing season starts.
When this happens, the roots thaw out very quickly and the plant tries to resume active growing. Unfortunately, with the ground mostly still frozen, the roots cannot process any nutrients—placing the plant in a very stressed state.
The plant uses energy it has stored in its root system too early, with no way of replenishing the nutrients and the roots and possibly the plant, depending on the severity of the root die back, may die.
When temperatures return to normal seasonal freezing values, the drop can freeze the active roots or any tender plant shoots, causing the tissues to die.
A plant cannot recover from this type of damage.
Hopefully, this will not happen in your garden this year but you are not out of danger yet. The other situation that arises when the ground does not freeze solid in the winter is heaving of plants from frost.
When poorly-protected soils are exposed to the milder temperatures and sunlight in the late winter, they begin to thaw. When a soil warms up, it starts to expand; when it cools down at night or when the temperature drops, it contracts.
The process of heating and cooling of the soil causes air pockets to form—and the force of the soil contracting and expanding can cause a plant to be pushed up out of the soil and directly exposed to the elements.
The fluctuating unseasonable temperatures also can cause trees and shrubs to become active and begin growing prematurely. Their cells start to fill with sap and the buds on the branches may start to expand.
But when the temperatures start to drop in the evening, these buds may freeze and drop off of the tree.
If this happens, you will have no leaves on your tree in this area. If this happens to the entire tree, it most likely would die.
There are a few things we can do to help out our plants and trees. Because of the lack of snow cover, your perennials need to be covered completely with either more snow shovelled from other parts of the yard or a layer of straw.
This is the best action you can take right now to assist your plants in getting through the winter.
Your small trees and shrubs (up to three feet tall) also can be covered with a mound of snow or straw to protect the buds from prematurely opening. Other trees and shrubs of moderate size can be wrapped with burlap.
The larger trees just will have to face the elements.
You cannot change the course of Mother Nature, but you can offer some protection for your plants when she is a little off the normal course.
District gardeners need to prepare themselves that this spring may bring some major damage to your garden. But by acting now, you may be able to reduce the effects of a very dry summer and fall—coupled with an unusual winter.

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