We Need To Talk About the Weather

Today is August 31. Tomorrow starts Meteorological Autumn. Yes, I know, the true astronomical start to Autumn isn’t until September 22 (at least here in the Northern Hemisphere). But for those of us that follow the meteorological seasons, Autumn begins September 1. So the last day of summer is today (or it was a month ago if you live in Connecticut where we only get winter and July).

Summer was a doozy here. It was actually summer. For the first time in a long time it was warm most of the time. I didn’t wear fleece in July–very unlike me.

But of course that meant that it was warm–very warm (once the snow stopped in May). We broke the record for 90 degree days. There were 39 of them this year. This is nothing compared to places like Tucson which is breaking its record for 105 degree days but it is still remarkable.

It is also remarkable because it came during the driest summer on record. At my house, during July and August we had less than an inch of rain each month. June wasn’t much better. Our entire state, with the exception of one county, is in severe drought.

Dying rugosa roses in parking lot island

This is just one example of what things look like around our state. And yes, it’s easy to say that this is a hot area surrounded by pavement but these are rugosa roses. They are actually on our invasive plant list. If something like this is browning out, you know it’s bad.

Yellow Knockout rose

This is my garden–my rose garden to be specific. Remember how hardy Knockout roses are supposed to be without any extra water, fertilizer or chemicals? Here’s my yellow Knockout rose, yellowing badly. Others I have are not faring quite so poorly. You can see other roses in this bed holding their own as well. But clearly this Knockout is stressed.

You’ll notice that I talked about the fact that this is weather, not climate. The old saying goes that if you can observe it in your lifetime, it’s weather, not climate.

I won’t make any judgment yet. I will say that this is the second drought–this one being short term so far–that we have had. The last was over a 2-3 year period and was only a couple of years ago.

As for heat, our summers had been relatively mild. It was the night-time temperatures that were creeping up, leading to a lack of cooling overnight. We really haven’t had long-term heat like this.

So no dire predictions from me, just observations. And a remark that when I could get the tomatoes from the critters, they were great. This was a great year for tomatoes!

Arborgeddon

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These trees came down during Tropical Storm Isaias. We were fortunate. Anything major that came down, came down in the wooded portion of our property.

As you can see, they were dead. They were left in place deliberately. Standing dead trees provide nesting areas for all sorts of birds–woodpeckers, small owls, chickadees, nuthatches–it is estimated that as many as 85 different kinds of birds will nest in a dead tree, if you can leave one in place safely.

In addition, bats will rest there to consume insects. And the beetles that get under the bark to begin the work of turning the tree into compost can serve as food for birds, chipmunks and squirrels.

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I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is that dead trees only be left if they will not endanger anyone or anything. These fell quite nicely down into the middle of our little woods. If they had been on the edges, near our neighbor’s house, or the power lines, obviously we would have had to remove them before they caused harm.

Isaias Aftermath

Tropical storm Isaias roared through Connecticut late afternoon on Tuesday. I had hoped for some beneficial rain since we are in moderate drought. And I really hoped for moderate winds since we live in a heavily treed state and heavy winds with the trees in full leaf is a recipe for disaster.

Of course by now you know what happened but you probably don’t know the exact details. At my house, I had exactly .2″ of rain–so hardly a drought buster. I had to go out the next day with my hose to water.

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And then there was this. Branches and leaves everywhere. This is the small stuff.

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It was a little worse out back by my hydrangeas. I pulled this out of them, in fact.

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And then there’s our pines. They regularly make a mess. This was no exception.

At the time all of this occurred, there was a tornado warning. There was no tornado, but the winds reached 60 mph or more. So we were very lucky–especially since one of our neighbors wasn’t quite so lucky. A pine similar to ours wound up on their house.

About one third of the state still has no power 36 hours later (nevermind no internet, cable or cell service in these work from home days). We are told that it will be “multiple” days until power is back.

2020 is certainly turning into quite a year.

“Holiday” Gardening

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I am not sure that I have ever talked about this before but this is an idea that I used when I worked in retail gardening and I still use it for myself as a handy “marker” to remember important things. I often talk about it in my lectures.

What am I talking about? Well, I key important things in the garden to regional or national holidays. And of course, this is not original to me.

The famous fertilizer company “4-step plan” is based on something similar–the concept of phenology, of when plants bloom.

I found, however, that folks had no idea when plants bloom (or in some instances, what the blooming plants referenced by the fertilizer company were!)

So I changed it up a bit. Here in the United States, everyone knows when Income Tax day is (April 15) or that Mother’s Day is the second weekend in May. Memorial Day is the last weekend in May.

For us here in Connecticut, the lilacs (above) bloom at Mother’s Day. It’s true even in this exceptionally cold spring. So that’s a good marker for folks.

There are some particularly nasty sawfly larva that come out some time between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day, depending on temperatures. One skelatonizes rose leaves; the other attacks mugo pine. If I were to say “watch for these in May,” that’s pretty vague. But to say, “keep your eyes open between Mother’s Day and Memorial Day,” now folks have some idea of the timeframe to check their plants.

I even use it to remember that one of my favorite migratory birds, the catbird, usually returns around Mother’s Day. This year it returned May 6.

So “holiday gardening” can be helpful for reminders. And who doesn’t need reminders now and again?

Little Mouse’s Ears

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This rather unappealing photo is a cluster of small oak leaves and flowers. Why is it important?

Every year I post some sort of similar photo with the same caption. The saying is an old farmer’s saying an it goes “when the oak leaves are the size of little mouse’s ears, you have had the last frost.”

This year will be quite the test because the forecast for this evening is for rain, changing to snow before it ends.

Interestingly enough, the last time we got snow, the temperature was 39 degrees Fahrenheit (which is why we weren’t buried in it, thank goodness!). So perhaps the oaks are correct. They have never steered me wrong yet.

Suspended Animation

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This is my later blooming magnolia, Elizabeth. I got it from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden in a one quart pot in the year 2000. It’s done quite nicely for me, despite being topped in 2011 by an ice storm.

This year, however, it’s in a state of suspension. Its beautiful yellow buds are swelling but they refuse to open. Here’s why.

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This was a week ago. Despite this, the following day, it was 60 degrees.

And then, 2 days later, there was thunder, lightning and hail.

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The rest of the week has been in the low 40s. We should be in the 60s at least. Ah well. This is why I always say we only have winter and July in this state!

Literally Seeing the Good

It is a strange time in our country and our world. For those of you who have family who have been affected by this virus, you are in my prayers. I know that that may seem to be small comfort, but I am not a medical professional. It’s all I can offer.

I have seen so many posts about getting out in nature and getting out and gardening and undoubtedly I will offer some of my own in the coming weeks and months. Those who remain unaffected still have that as a hope, thank goodness.

One of the very last things I was able to do before most of my state shut down was to pick up a pair of prism glasses. I have not spoken about my 9 month odyssey with double vision here but I know it must have shown up in some of my photographs.

It started last August after vertigo (when I temporarily lost all vision). When I regained,my sight, I could tell it wasn’t “right,” but it took a little while to figure out how.

Once I decided that there were 2 of everything–at a distance mostly–I began the odyssey of trying to fix it. I am still doing vision therapy (and no, I never knew there was such a thing either) but until it helps–if it’s even going to–I need to see so I got the prism glasses.

So ideally now that the world is clearer–and now that I am on forced leave from my job just in time for spring–I will have some interesting things to share.

Now it just needs to stop snowing.

This is Why My Hydrangeas Don’t Bloom

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This photo was taken on St. Patrick’s Day, the day this year which, at my latitude, happens to also be the equinox, or day when we have equal day and night lengths.

The actual equinox is 2 days later (St. Joseph’s Day this year, and about as early as it can fall).

Nevertheless, in my state, it’s snowing, it’s predicted to snow again on the equinox and it can snow well into May.

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This is what my old-fashioned hydrangea macrophylla ‘Nikko Blue’ looks like right now. It’s been very warm, despite the late season snow nuisance. In fact, by the weekend, it will rocket up to 70 degrees, before falling back to something more seasonable.

But the warmth, and then the snow on top of the emerging buds, kills the flowers off of these old-fashioned hydrangeas every year.

Newer varieties, or varieties that bloom on new wood, are not killed by late freezes. Luckily I grow both kinds in my yard.