Are We in for a Real Winter?

As I write this, it is Nov. 10 and the temperature outside is about 15 degrees. That’s cold, man! Even for Minnesota in late fall. The rather sudden drop in temperatures over the past couple of weeks has many gardeners wondering if we are in for a “real winter,” meaning one with lots of cold and snow.

The last time we had a significantly cold and nasty winter was 2014, when Minnesota schools were canceled for five days because of vicious wind chills. In 2016, I experienced the earliest first bloom in my Northfield garden ever with a bloom on March 13. That was also the longest growing season on record and we did not even have a frost in the Twin Cities until Nov. 7.

The National Weather Service has predicted the possibility of a weak La Nina system affecting weather here, which indicates it will probably be cold and wetter than normal. What does this mean for gardeners?

On Oct. 27, my alley garden was blanketed in snow, including the still blooming ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory.

If you still have fall garden work, get it done! I still have a few garden chores to do, including adding shredded leaves to my beds and cleaning out a few pots of annuals that I have not gotten to yet. It looks like this coming week will have a few slightly warmer temperatures and I plan to get out there ASAP to finishing things up.

Why I don’t spray—nasty Japanese beetles (top) and helpful bees coexist.

Fewer bugs??? Well, that’s the hope when we have a cold winter—that it will be cold enough to zap the Japanese beetles and other invaders that spend winter in the soil. Experts say that how much of the population of pest insects are killed by cold weather depends on 1) how cold it is and for how long; and 2) how much snow cover we have and when we get it—cold weather without snow cover is more likely to kill grubs nesting in soil. This article notes, however, that cold, dry winters also kill beneficial insects and, sadly, that Japanese beetle grubs can go very deep in the soil. Sigh.

More plant losses? Well, maybe, maybe not. We had a lot of rain this fall, particularly in October, which means plants are well-hydrated going into the winter season. With this early freeze, you could mulch around tender plants to make sure they don’t heave out of the ground during the inevitable thaw-freeze cycles. But, if we get some decent snow in December, we may just be in for a long, long winter.

Time to make some tea and get out a book!

 

 

 

First Bloom, More Snow

iris reticulata
iris reticulata
This is the latest date I have ever recorded a first bloom.

A Facebook friend of mine wrote today that she is just plain numb when it comes to our weather here in Minnesota this spring. For my town, another 6 to 9 inches of snow is predicted for later today — yes, 6 to 9 inches on April 22! Last year, by this time, we had had several days in the 70s and 80s, whereas this year  we have not yet hit 60. If you live outside of the Upper Midwest, wrap your mind around that. According to the super-helpful Carleton College Weather Database, my hometown has not seen 60 degrees since Nov. 22, 2012 — five months!

But, no more complaining. We will endure. And, I have a bloom in my front yard. The Iris reticulata that is usually the first bulb to bloom in my front yard is up and blooming as of yesterday. April 21 is the latest I have ever recorded this first bloom. Last year, it happened on March 15! Here’s what I said then about past bloom times:

Last year, I first saw Iris reticulata in bloom on April 4; in 2010, I saw it on March 25; and in 2009, I recorded it blooming on April 16.

You can see how much variation there is in Minnesota, but having the earliest bloom time and latest in back to back years—and more than a month apart— is a bit disconcerting. The weather forecast calls for 60s and even 70s by the weekend, so I’m hoping that this will in fact be our last snowfall of the year.

Our Fast-Forward Fall

fall 1

How fast has fall come on this year? Check out the three photos below, each taken about one day apart last week. I took the first one because it seemed the ash tree out my kitchen window had gone from green to gold overnight. Then the wind started blowing and the temperatures dropped and, in a little more than 48 hours, nearly all the leaves fell from the tree.

fall 1
Wednesday, Oct. 3, approximately 7 a.m.

 

fall 2
Thursday, Oct. 4, approximately 8 a.m.

 

fall 3
Sunsets on summer, Friday, Oct. 5, approximately 7:30 p.m.

Assessing the Damage

It's a little out of focus, but there is something on that bloom.

After three nights in the 20s, it looks like we are out of the chilly woods for at least a week or so. Much needed rain is in the forecast and the low temperatures are predicted to remain in the high 30s and low 40s.

It seemed a good time to assess whatever damage occurred. First the good news, most of the blossoms on my cherry tree appear (at least for now) to have survived. And, the really good news is several of these little pollinators were hard at work on the blossoms that were open.

Most of the perennials that have come up seemed to have survived the frost with few problems. Two exceptions: This newly planted ‘Autumn Frost’ hosta really should have been covered up better (my bad!) and the leaves are wilted over completely. The plant was only a couple of inches out of the ground, so I’m hoping it may come up again. Also, a hearty looking (as opposed to really hardy) lupine also is slumped over.

What kind of damage did you experience with the hard freezes?

Covering Up

Bring on the freeze!

My very unofficial thermometer read about 24 degrees F at 7 a.m. today, and there were definite signs of a freeze around the neighborhood. Last night, I covered up my little cherry tree out front in hopes of keeping it a bit warmer against the freeze.

I was surprised how big that tree has gotten! Even using two sheets sown together and an extra queen size sheet, I wasn’t able to cover the entire tree. I plan to leave the ghost covering on through Thursday morning when the freezing night-time temps are predicted to pass.

Fruit Crops on the Line

With a freeze forecast for much of southern Minnesota tonight and tomorrow night, tree fruit crops all over the state are in danger. Many plum, apple and cherry trees are blossoming now–including the little ‘Bali’ cherry in my front yard, which is just starting to bloom. The magic number for a freeze is 28 degrees F.  Above that, many crops will be OK; below it, not so much. The amount of damage also depends on how long temperatures remain low.

Since my cherry is fairly small, I plan to sew together a couple of old sheets and drape them over the tree. Hopefully, that will provide enough protection to keep the blossoms in tact. Those with larger trees or orchards may try running a sprinkler on the tree during the freeze. Here’s a post from the U of M Extension on protecting crops from a freeze.

 

What’s Growing On? More March Madness in the Garden

Squill in bloom.

Last week, encouraged by comments from a friend, I planted a short row of spinach, a short row of mustard greens and a slightly longer row of peas in my vegetable garden. Today, two of the three of them have tiny shoots coming up.

These are all in raised beds but none of them have row covers. It seemed OK to plant because the gardens met the basic requirement of  the ground being not too wet and workable. Given the long-range forecast for Minnesota, which shows no signs of temperatures anywhere close to freezing for the next week or so, I plan to plant more cool-weather crops outside today. Why not? Apparently we live in Kansas City now.

Based on the U of M's kabob test, my lawn is thawed enough to water. Fortunately, the skewer was wet.

I also cleaned up some of my perennial beds. Normally, I heed the standard advice to stay out of the lawn and beds to prevent soil compaction until well into April or even May, but not this year. The University of Minnesota Extension suggested gardeners get a kabob prong and stick it in their soil. If it goes 8 to 10 inches, the ground is OK to water. If the tip is dry, get out the hoses, pronto!

I am not raking the lawn — partly because it’s a chore I don’t enjoy much and partly because it still seems a bit soft. That said, the weeds are popping up already, and I had a grand time this morning pulling a few dandelions. The ground is soft enough that you can pull out the root cleanly — very satisfying.

One of the stunning characteristics of this very strange spring is the speed with which spring bloomers are appearing and blooming. Normally, the squill in my yard come up very slowly, hold on to flower buds for a week or more and then finally bloom. Not so this year, they popped up, and it was boom and bloom in a couple of days.

U of M Extension Master Gardeners from around Minnesota are reporting unbelievable amounts of growth in their gardens. Perennials such as clematis, daylilies, lupine, bleeding heart and hosta are up. Like me, other gardeners planted lettuces, peas and spinach and are seeing shoots already. Under the mulch, I’m finding rudbeckia and sweet woodruff, even the roses and hydrangea are greening up. The consensus among garden experts now seems to be that it is OK to uncover perennials — just be ready to throw a sheet, blanket or mulch on them if the temps suddenly take a dip.

What are you doing differently in your garden because of the unusual weather?