It’s a sure sign of SPRING! Just last week the Canada Geese started landing on rooftops in the subdivisions and heralded the spring of 2014 in with a great amount of honking!
And then, they stopped.
I’m embarrassed to write this but, I’m hoping that they come back and do it again. The short-term weather forecast looks anything like spring and like all of you, I’ve had enough of these arctic blasts.
Since the beginning of March, we have experienced thirteen days where the night-time temperatures have dipped down below -10C, three of those days were below -20 C. Although -20 C feels brutal to us, it’s more about the difference between the maximum and minimum daily temperature that feels brutal to plants. For instance, on January 6th, it went from 0.1 C to -22.8 C. Rapid and deep freezing cycles such as this one have the potential to damage plants for they cause rapid and dramatic freezing of any free water in the root-crown tissues and above ground parts of the plant.
Because 2013 was such a wonderful growing season with warm temperatures and frequent precipitation, we had a lot of “fat” growth rings on trees going into the fall. We know that wider growth rings are at greater risk of injury from rapid freeze-thaw temperature events and so I am predicting a greater than average amount of freeze-thaw cracks and areas of the bark where the cambium freezes so rapidly that it “pops” open in oblong-shaped cracks.
The long winter conditions will likely have greater than average desiccation effects on the foliage of evergreens and we can see a lot of that browning on the tips of evergreens in the landscape. In container production under poly, evergreen desiccation may more dramatic this year due to a longer than average period where the rootball is frozen. Time will tell.
For gardens and landscapes that were well insulated with ample snow cover, the insulating properties of the snow will have helped moderate the air temperatures around the root-crown area and the stems. Where the snow melted and turned to ice, be assured that the plant structures below are still insulated against the arctic air temperatures the rest of us are gritting our teeth through. However where perennial plants are only marginally hardy, we can probably expect to lose a few more than we normally would.
So what about the insect pests? Surely they are struggling to survive these wicked sub-zero temperatures? Well, maybe. For those overwintering scale nymphs or caterpillar eggs that are completely exposed to -20 C and those drying winds, we can probably expect greater than average mortality, but many will still survive and live on to produce another successful generation. One would surely think that these temperatures would be enough to kill overwintering stages of emerald ash borers, but alas these beetle beasts produce their own anti-freeze and have the intelligence to overwinter inside the protection of bark and cambium tissue.
Besides the obvious emotional side effects, this weather is impeding regular farming activities that would normally be generating employment for a lot of our labour force and progress in our spring task lists for this time of year. To say that we are falling behind is a mild understatement. The problem is that once things do get going, it’s going to be insane to try to meet the demands of the plant buying customers while trying to catch up. Yes, each year brings some degree of insanity but 2014 might be a deal-breaker.
So how do we cope? I have a few strategies, like registering for an all-inclusive trip to Jamaica and filling out the forms until the point where they ask for my credit card. When things get really tough I like to play a game that my friend Ted taught me, “It Could Be Worse”. When I find myself whining about something, I try to imagine how it could be worse. For instance, did you know that Atlantic Canadians are currently bracing for a powerful Nor’easter that could bring upwards of 30 cm of snow and hurricane force winds?
It works well, doesn’t it?
Video of the week: Big Bird at the Feeder.