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.
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.
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.
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!
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 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.
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.
As of yesterday, March 1, we welcomed spring in the northern hemisphere. For those of you scratching your heads because you thought spring began with the vernal equinox on March 19, you’re not mistaken. We’re just talking about 2 different ways to measure when “spring” begins.
Most folks think it begins on the vernal equinox, which is somewhere between March 19–22 each year.
I use the meteorological way of calculating and thus spring begins March 1, summer begins June 1, autumn begins September 1 and winter begins December 1.
In any event, your house plants aren’t waiting for mid-March to know that spring has arrived. They are already responding to the longer daylight and warmer sun.
What does this mean for you? First, you will need to check your plants more frequently to see if they need water, particularly those in bright southern windows.
Next, you will want to make sure that plants that have been fine all winter in an east or west window are suddenly not getting too much sun. This happens to me every year (and unfortunately I don’t have the luxury of moving many of those plants–they just have to tough it out until my trees leaf out).
Finally, as your plants start to wake up, so do little insects. Be alert for this and catch infestations early, before they spread beyond the infested plant.
If you live in a cold climate–even in one that hasn’t had a particularly bad winter–it may be tempting to get outside as soon as you get a nice day. There’s nothing wrong with that. But don’t forget to check on your house plants too. They need you more than ever this time of year.
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?
I am lucky. I have a lot of moss. So there is a significant amount of green around my property.
Of course many of us plant evergreens so that we have something to look at in the winter as well.
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.
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.
And the structure of bare branches is sometimes more beautiful than trees with leaves.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!