Unusual Winter

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While we are still above average in snowfall this winter, it has been unusually warm as well. January averaged over 7 degrees above normal. That’s hugely ridiculous in terms of warm (although much of that had to do with warm evenings. Very much of our warming here in New England has to do with nights not getting as cold as they should. In January, the nights were as warm as the days!)

So unfortunately when we have precipitation, what’s falling is falling as rain (if we’re lucky) or freezing rain if we’re not. Either way, there hasn’t been much significant snow since early December.

What then do we see during all this rain and ice?

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I am lucky. I have a lot of moss. So there is a significant amount of green around my property.

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Of course many of us plant evergreens so that we have something to look at in the winter as well.

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The above house, with the betula nigra and the evergreens, is especially nice. It’s a great landscape for a non-snowy winter. There’s lots of color and winter interest.

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Here’s a better look at just the evergreens from that same landscape.

For my long time readers, if you remember the gingko tree from last fall, with the pool of golden leaves all over the ground–this is that same landscape. It’s really first class.

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And the structure of bare branches is sometimes more beautiful than trees with leaves.

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But otherwise, a winter landscape with no snow is sort of dead and brown. As a gardener, it just seems to be resting, waiting for spring.

Gardening in Winter

I talk all the time about how I garden in the “frozen north.” This year, it has alternated between being frozen and being something else. We have had stretches of milder days (40s and 50s when it should have been in the 30s) and then downright unreasonably warm days in the upper 60s and low 70s.

By the time this is posted, we should be back to something approximating “normal” for us or even below normal–20s or low 30s and blustery winds. That’s certainly not the sort of weather that makes one say, “Gosh, I want to get outside and do some gardening!”

But on the warmer days, there are things that can be done if the ground underneath is still frozen and you don’t risk compacting wet soil by walking on it.

First, you can prune small dormant trees. Any large-scale pruning is best left to the arborists of course. But removing dead twigs from a Japanese maple, for example, is a great thing to do, and will stimulate growth in the spring.

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It’s easy to tell the dead from the living twigs. The dead twigs are usually ashy gray while the living twigs are “tree colored” for lack of a better description. On my red Japanese maples, they are reddish and on my green Japanese maples, they are greenish.

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With small hand pruners, remove the dead twigs neatly back to the living branch. It’s that simple.

Other easy chores are to just walk around and collect small branches that have accumulated (already) during the windy days. You can stack them somewhere for a small animal burrow, or tie them into bundles for your town to remove, if your town does that.

Or you can take a walk and enjoy the lovely weather and get ideas from other people’s gardens, when you can see the structure more clearly.

Or you can just enjoy taking a walk, without spring pollen (if that irritates you!)

While winter warmth can be troubling, it’s also a gift and a blessing in many ways. I always try to use those warm days to my advantage–there are never enough of them!

Winter Wonderland

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About a week ago, we awoke to quite a little mess. The forecast was for 3-6 inches of snow, followed by sleet, freezing rain and maybe a little rain. Sadly they were very mistaken. Sleet and freezing rain fell for 12 plus hours. We were quite lucky not to lose power.

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So when the sun came out the following day, it made for some fairly spectacular photos.

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Unfortunately, it also made for some fairly treacherous conditions. I chipped at the ice on my driveway for 3 hours and managed to clean up just a 5 square foot patch. That’s when I realized that I wasn’t going anywhere until the ice melted–maybe 5 days from now.

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I went inside and cancelled all my appointments.

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Luckily a warmup is coming just before Christmas so I can get out and buy dinner. By then, my cupboards will be a little bare.

First Snow

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We were just into meteorological winter–which began December 1–when the snow started falling.

We were lucky. We just got the tail end of the storm that began out West the day before Thanksgiving.

Still, it started snowing about 1 PM Sunday and snowed, sleeted, and maybe poured down a little freezing rain until Tuesday morning. That’s why there’s actually so little snow. The sleet and freezing rain packed down a lot of what fell Sunday into Monday morning.

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This, however, is becoming a perpetual problem. This is all snow, on a Japanese maple. Because the tree loses its leaves so late, it bows down under the weight of the snow. I need to find a different place for my car. It hasn’t been damaged yet, but this is about the third time this has happened. I can’t keep taking chances.

It probably saves the tree though.

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When we have this much snow, I run out of places to pile it when I am shoveling. I sure hope we have some melting before the next storms!

A Digression for a Really Cool Tree

I know I said that it would be all house plants all the time henceforth, but something happened this past weekend that only happens once a year and I think it’s cool enough to post about.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t get the “before” photo, but on Saturday morning, when I walked the dog, this tree was in full leaf.

On Sunday when I walked her, it was completely bare.

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Even prettier, the ground is covered in this puddle of gold leaves. The tree literally defoliated overnight. And it does this every year. I’ve been watching for this because I know that it happens. It usually happens right around this date–November 15th.

This year it was slightly earlier–overnight November 9th. I can only think it’s because we are having such unreasonably chilly weather. It was 22 degrees on Saturday November 8th for a low–so that probably caused the early leaf drop.

What tree does this? It’s the gingko biloba. And yes, this is a female tree, so it makes fruits. I have heard all sorts of things about how one should only plant male trees because the females are incredibly stinky but as someone who has walked dogs around and under this trees for 25 years, I’ve never noticed an unpleasant odor–even when the fruits are all over the ground and crushed. Supposedly it is the butyric acid in the rotting, crushed fruit that makes these trees smell.

I can’t say that I have ever noticed that–but I can say that the fruit is uncommonly attractive to schnauzers. Most of mine have eaten it with no trouble. The current one loves the fruit as well but it doesn’t agree with her. Must be that pesky acid. And yes, I recognize that it is NOT a recommended dog treat.

So I try to give the tree a wide berth and admire it from across the street with this particular dog–but I do admire the tree.

Polar Vortex Ahead?

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If you have been following this blog for a while, you know that I am quite the believer in using squirrels nests to predict the severity of the winter.

This may sound silly or strange to some, but it’s just a different version of those old farmer’s tales. This is how it works.

Supposedly the higher up in a tree a squirrel builds its nest, the colder the winter will be. You have to know, of course, that squirrels always build at least halfway up the tree or higher–so it helps to know a little bit about squirrels to start.

So a nest at about the mid-point of the tree–or even slightly higher–would mean a very mild winter.

Conversely, a nest very near the top means a cold winter.

I will weigh in here with the objective observation that I have never completely understood why this is true. It would seem to me that if I were a gray furry mammal and I thought it was going to be cold, I would like to be nearer to the ground than way up in the air.

But my nearly decade long survey of squirrels and their nesting habits has shown that they seem to know what the heck they are doing. It just proves that I would never survive in the wild!

So based on past predictions, my squirrels are calling for the polar vortex. Don’t say they didn’t warn you!