Welcome to Meteorological Winter

December 1 began meteorological winter, which is different from astronomical winter.

Meteorological winter is based on the three coldest months–December, January and February. Astronomical winter is based on the solstice, which this year happens on December 21.

So, since we’re in meteorological winter now, I thought I would see what my squirrels were thinking. For newer readers, what I am relying on is the time tested (sort of) tradition that squirrels build their nests based on their foreknowledge of winter cold. The higher up in a tree a squirrel builds its nest, the colder the winter will be.

I ask you, does this make any sense? No. But it has seemed to hold true for almost every winter that I have consulted the nests. So let’s look up at some nests.

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This is the squirrel’s nest on my property. It’s a little hard to see because it’s almost at the top of this oak. Clearly, my squirrels are thinking “cold winter.”

And I wouldn’t disagree with them. November ran well below average, except in snowfall and rainfall.

But that’s not the whole story.

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There are two nests in this tree (again, if you can’t see them, my apologies. This time of year, we’re all still cleaning up leaves, and I couldn’t get near anything because of leaf piles–which is still better than snowdrifts!)

These trees are on my neighbor’s property, directly across from my house and my oak. In the tree on the left–the one nearest their house–there are 2 nests. One is on the lowest branch and another just slightly higher. So their squirrels are thinking different things than mine.

So perhaps the “split decision” this winter means exactly that: periods of very cold weather followed by not so cold. I’ll take that!

Nature Got a Little Confused

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This was the scene just a week ago–roses in about 7 inches of snow.

Now, yes, Connecticut has gotten snow earlier than this, and it’s even gotten more snow earlier than this, with catastrophic results. But this still isn’t common, as these blooming roses indicate!

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This is a very wintery scene from my backyard. Much of this is gone now because we’ve had a couple of very cold rains (36 degrees and rain–ugh–but at least it wasn’t more snow–or ice!)

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Here you can see how many leaves were still on the trees when the snow fell.

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And finally, this is my raised bed. I didn’t grow much that was edible in here this year because of last year’s poisoning. Still, I put some parsley in it, hoping for some swallowtail larva. I got a few near the end of the season, meaning, I hope, that our washout of a summer has finally cleansed this bed and I might at least be able to grow edibles again next year.

But notice the spikes standing up right at the front of the photo–that’s evidence that something was eating the parsley right before the snow fell–so again, at least the parsley’s edible!

At this point, summer seems a long way off–but as Mark Twain once said, if you don’t like the weather here, wait 5 minutes!

More Arbor-geddon

On Monday I talked about damage from a winter nor’easter that occurred on March 7 in my yard.

But the damage wasn’t limited just to my house, of course. Just about every neighbor on my street had had damage. The arborists are going to be busy for months cleaning up from this storm.

And when I went to our local historical society recently I was shocked to find 4 large eastern white pines down on its property (I am not sure why I was shocked. I guess I thought that maybe being in Hartford might have shielded them somewhat. I was very mistaken.)

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The most dramatic damage was to this pine at the entrance to the parking lot. Fortunately it seems to have fallen away from the street and away from the parking lot–it didn’t seen to have been moved there in any way (although with the size of this tree, if it were going to have been moved, I think they would have just had to remove it!)

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Over a week later, the air was still fragrant with the smell of fresh pine. That was kind of amazing to me.

As I examined these trees a little closer (and it wasn’t possible to get too close because of a combination of wet snow and soggy ground) I realized what they had in common. Here’s a photo below.

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Notice this thicket of brambles? All the tree trunks were also covered with these same vines. It was probably the weight of these vines (in addition to the extremely high winds–and the fact that pines are known to do this) that caused this issue

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In 2011–our last storm that caused dramatic tree damage–foresters and arborists claimed that the weight of invasive vines in the tree canopy contributed to the damage. You can dispute that–or not–but all of the tree trunks that fell on this property were covered with these vines. Here is another photo.

The takeaway of course is that invasive vines should be managed. That’s always easier to say than it is to do. I know that from my own property.

And of course none of my trees had the vines on them and they fell anyway. So try as you might, sometimes nature just wins.

 

“Arbor-geddon”

We here in the Northeast have had to put up with a bit much lately. Three “nor’easters” in 3 weeks.

For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of a “nor-easter,” it is a storm that most often occurs in the winter with winds that primarily blow from the north east (hence its name). It can bring rain or snow or a combination of both. It can bring blizzard conditions. It is most often known for its devastating winds, so folks along the coast often call them “winter hurricanes.” And, if they occur at times of high tides, they can often lead to very destructive coastal flooding as well.

Each one of our nor’easters has been personally different for me and I’ve fared very, very well compared to most of New England and the mid-Atlantic. But I’ll give you a little taste of the personal destruction we’ve had at our house from nor’easter #2, the one I’ve dubbed “arbor-geddon.”

 

The first problem was the attack upon my car. Yes, there is a car underneath all this tangled foliage. The top of a Japanese maple came down on top of my Subaru. Notice my wheel in the lower left corner of the photo.

Luckily the car emerged with just a small scratch. The maple is not so lucky. Here’s what that looks like.

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Here’s the branch that was on the car, as well as a look at the now mangled tree. I planted this as a sapling 23 years ago. I will try pruning to see what it looks like “after.” Despite its attack on my car, I am fond of it. And the birds love to nest there.

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And of course there are the Eastern white pines. They shed some large limbs in every heavy snow or ice storm. Honestly, it’s a miracle we have any branches left. Notice the three distinct places where they fell. Not sure what that’s about.

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What’s a little more discouraging is what’s happened to this juniper. It was a big overgrown thing but I let it go because it produced masses of berries for the birds, particularly over-wintering robins or those that came back very early in the spring. It’s been significantly damaged. I am not sure if we can prune it into shape or if it has to come out. We’ll see a little later this spring.

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And we lost this large branch off our Japanese black pine. This is mostly cosmetic damage–sad but not terrible.

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On Friday I will show some damage that occurred elsewhere–on the grounds of a nearby museum–and the reasons for it.

 

Wordless Wednesday

20180218_083216Surprise! After days of unseasonable (or as I sometimes like to think of it, unreasonable) weather with temperatures in the upper 40s and even mid 50s, this happened!

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But, no worries. We’re soon going back to “unreasonable.” It’s supposed to be even warmer by the time you read this–maybe mid-60s, or even 70!–so all this will be just a memory.

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But this strange weather is never a good thing–not for plants, which start breaking dormancy early, not for animals, which get confused about breaking torpor, and not for people, who don’t know what to wear on a given day. Very unsettling.

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Don’t Kill A Plant With Kindness

I’ve been doing a bit of lecturing lately and I will be doing a lot more as spring begins. Some years, I am so busy lecturing, I can barely find time to get into the garden (isn’t that a happy problem to have?)

One topic that almost always comes up–regardless of what I might be speaking about–is sustainability. That’s a word that gets thrown a round an awful lot but the title of this post pretty much sums it up for me. Another way to put it, particularly for outdoor plants (because remember, I speak a lot on house plants too!) would be “right plant, right place.” How often have we heard that one in our gardening years?

But really, it works. What am I telling you? Am I saying only grow native plants? Oh dear, no! I’d be a terrible hypocrite if I did that! Natives are wonderful, but so are many other types of plants.

What you need to do is to learn what works for you, in your soil and on your site. I have horrible, wet clay that remains wet long into the spring–way too long into the spring. I can rarely work in it before May unless we have an unusually warm spring (and that too is problematic for other reasons). I have learned this over many years of gardening in the same place.

This presents challenges–no early spring pruning or weeding–and opportunities–the beneficial insects and native bees always get their chance to over-winter and emerge from my gardens without being disturbed.

But one thing I don’t do–and never do–is give my plants any “extras” after they get established. Yes, when a plant is first planted, it needs water to help it get settled in. That’s all it needs–water (and that is a post for another day–how to water–and why you don’t want to over-amend your soil.)

But once that plant is established, you’re all set. Some of my plants have been in my gardens for 10, 15 or 25 years or more. Some are original to when the house was built, so that’s almost 60 years. Do you think I run out and water those? Or feed them? Why on earth would I?

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It’s the same thing with roses. Look at this plant. Can you tell where it’s growing? I’ll bet you can. It’s literally a foot away from the road. We’ve had a lot of heavy snow and ice this winter. You can see what the plows have done to it. What am I going to do about it? Nothing, except prune off anything that’s broken in the spring.

Can you see why I am calling this post “don’t kill a plant with kindness?” This rose garden has been here for 22 years. It once got plowed into oblivion when my snow plow guy didn’t realize there was anything around the mailbox. These are own-root roses so it’s all good (but you can imagine my anguish when I came home from work and saw my rose canes dragged down the street by the plow-that’s a little too much tough love, even for me!)

Over-feeding and over-watering encourages insects and disease. As we inch ever closer to spring in the northern hemisphere, why not try a little “tough love” (otherwise known as “sustainable gardening”) this year? See if your plants can do with a little less fertilizer and supplemental watering. You might be pleasantly surprised!

Wordless Wednesday

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From about 7 pm on December 22 until Christmas,  when almost 4 inches of snow fell on top of it, my yard looked like this.

Unfortunately it also looked–and still looks– like this.

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And then there was my ski slope of a driveway.  I got quite creative about getting the dog out onto the frozen grass. Getting the mail was another issue.  That had to wait for a thaw.

I was able to hike down the lawn and rake the newspapers in. You get creative in these storms.

But there was no driving–or even clearing the cars–when it’s like this.

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It doesn’t show in the photos but the icicles on the cars are inches long.

I don’t really remember a period of prolonged icing like this.  We have had hours of it, but not days.

And unfortunately we have friends with broken bones who tried to get out too soon.

This was a rough storm this weekend. Ice is so much worse than snow!

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Luckily it’s pretty at least.