21 January 2016

What Can a Mild Winter Mean for Your Plants

Toronto is not the only place experiencing a mild winter for 2015/16.  I was surprised to hear that they had temperatures of +15 Celsius at Christmas time!!  We weren't that mild, in fact at Christmas we were bundled up against -20 Celsius temperatures while we visited the Legislature Grounds.

We had a cold snap around Christmas time and another just a week ago.  But other than that we've really enjoyed a mild winter.  Not warm enough to melt away the snow, but warmer than usual with less than average snowfall.

What does that mean for our gardens come spring?  Well, if you have native plants they should be fine.  Plants that push the zones, however, may be adversely affected as the warm temperatures like what the Toronto area has enjoyed may encourage some growth and blooming.  My son in Vancouver said the daffodils are starting to come up already.

cherry trees in bloom early spring in Vancouver

Fruiting trees and shrubs may produce fewer blossoms, resulting in fewer fruits.  If the blossoms break bud and we have a cold spell again, those blossoms will die from the cold.  That's not to say the plants may not produce flowers again in the spring, but surely there will be fewer of them.  Apple trees will invariably fare better than stone fruits like cherry and plum.

Native plants are resilient and can take irregular weather occurrences without much adverse effects.  If we go from mild to a severe cold snap that could likely cause stress to the plants but is not likely to kill them.  If we go from mild, to really cold and then a really warm spell we can expect worse damage.  However if we get a prolonged cold spell, with temperatures remaining below freezing, our plants stand a much better chance of coming forth in the spring with little damage.

Perennials will typically be ok as most of the plant is underground right now, preferably under some sort of mulch.  Daffodils and tulips may produce a leaf or two but the flower won't be close to forming yet so they should be fine come spring.  Native trees like birch and poplar and maples (where they are native) can handle these conditions quite well.  You may see some tip die back but if they've been watered in well in the fall prior to freeze up, they should be fine.  Evergreens may see some browning.

So what can you do as a gardener?

  • Plant native and plant where the plant will grow best.  Plant within your zone.

  • Build your soil and keep it healthy by adding compost and other microorganisms that will help break down and rebuild your soil.  Think organic matter.

  • Mulch!!  Two to three inches helps insulate against extremes in temperatures.

  • Make sure you have good drainage and that the plants you selected are good for their site.  A wet site is generally suited to birch, marsh marigold, mosses, ferns etc. while a dry site is usually conducive to sempervivums, cacti, yucca etc.

  • Create a burlap screen around your tender evergreens ie.  cedar and Alberta spruce

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