The sun is shining. The birds are singing. The sky is a vibrant
I'm wearing a light jacket and gloves. There's a very slight
chill in the air but the warmth from the sun wipes that away before
it can even bother me. This weekend, taking a walk with my dog in
the park, the pathways were rather full of others doing the same.
They were smiling and jogging and taking in the scenery. Most of
their heads were free of the typical tassel-topped hats that are
signatures of the season.
|Only a small speck of snow on this sun-kissed walking path in
January in the Midwest.
Though the leaves aren't on the trees yet and my spring bulbs
aren't shooting up, the anticipation and excitement of the new
season are so tangible I can practically taste them in the crisp
air. And seeing the light in others' eyes and the skip in their
steps tells me they are feeling the same.
There's just one problem with initiating my spring countdown:
It's January. Early January. In fact, Christmas and New Year's are
still so fresh in my mind they haven't had time to register as
memories yet. And even though Mother Nature and her birds and her
cloudless sky tell me otherwise, unfortunately it's not quite time
yet to pack up my snow shovel and boots.
During particularly harsh winters, the sun, wind and cold can
desiccate evergreen foliage, damage bark and injure branches, buds
and roots. Snow and ice can break tree branches. Salt used for
deicing sidewalks, driveways and streets can burn plants. Deer
continue munching on tree bark and branches as their winter food
|Current U.S. snow cover as of early to mid-January - nearly 50
percent less than last year at this time. Photo: The Weather
But what happens during a mild winter? According to The Weather
Channel, brown ground is the rule rather than the exception so far
this January in the Midwest. Across the country, many areas are
experiencing the same. According to NOAA, a mere 15.8 percent of
the lower 48 states had snow on the ground Jan. 10; last year at
this time it was 62 percent.
So, while your winter weather may not be so frightful, there are
still some things you can do in your landscape to ensure your trees
and plants survive whatever additional curveballs Mother Nature
might throw their way. (And there might be some coming your way
very soon: The Weather Channel predicts winter
will finally arrive this weekend for the Midwest. For parts of
Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan may even see the heaviest
snow of the season.)
One basic task that is always good to include on your winter
preparation list is proper mulching. This is defined as a 2- to
3-inch layer of mulch around trees and plants. "Proper mulching
will help reduce injury from plants heaving out of the soil due to
winter's freezing and thawing cycle," explains Shawn
Fitzgerald, a landscape horticulturist with The Davey Tree
Expert Company. This is especially true for perennials and plant
material installed in 2011. "Proper mulching maintains an even soil
temperature and retains soil moisture."
While leaf buds are a lot more patient through Mother Nature's
warming and cooling temperatures, flower buds are not. A common
problem during mild winters are flower buds tricked into blooming
by the warmth because they have already received sufficient cold
stratification, explains Greg Mazur,
The Davey Tree Expert Company's Tech Advisor. For instance,
sightings of plants and trees in bloom were reported in Tennessee
following unseasonably warm December weather. For some plants, this
could limit their spring blooming potential.
Unfortunately, there's not much a homeowner can do to avoid this
problem. In some cases, one can use dormant oils or anti-desiccant
sprays to coat tender plant tissue, protecting flower buds and
premature swelling of leaf buds. But a gardener must apply these
types of products beginning with the onset of three or four days of
temperatures more than 50 degrees when nights don't drop below
While we can't change the fact that Mother Nature can be
indecisive and unpredictable, we can change one thing: Our patience
level. Do your best to protect your landscape from winter's
fluctuating temperatures and enjoy the challenging and fun world of
gardening. Let winter have her time and give our landscapes their
rest. Spring will be here before we know it!