Greetings! Looks like January and not spring as I look out my office window as I write this. Soon, the March & April sun will do its magic, the snow will melt, and that water will help our plants grow really fast as we head into April. As we begin the growing year, here is a summary of the temperatures and precipitation of the winter months:
- December 2017: Following a November with temperatures 1 degree below average each day and precipitation was at 41 percent of the norm, in December we were 4 degrees a day below average in temperature’s and precipitation at 69% of average. Quite the change from our wet and balmy October. The lowest temperature in December was -7°, and 57° was the highest. The coldest high temperature was 9°. We had 5 mornings below 0 and 21 days where the high was 35 or below. Only one night stayed above freezing. We had 6 days with highs of 45 or more. We had 14” of snow. Winds gusted to 49 mph on the 13th.
- 2017 Notes: So the last 3 months of the year we finished right at average in precipitation. We ended the calendar year with 96% of average precipitation. After 2 consecutive years of severe drought that was good to see. 2017’s temperatures came out about 1 degree a day above average. October was noteworthy that it was our warmest and our 4th wettest on record. This was our 2nd warmest fall on record. May of 2017 was the first May ever recorded that no high temperature was in the 70’s. March of 2017 was colder than the previous December January and February. That is something!
- January: January temperatures were right at average. The highest temperature of the month was 61° and the lowest was -13°. Five mornings were 0 or below. We had 20 days where the high was 35 or lower. The coldest high temperature was 10 degrees. Two nights, the low stayed above freezing. 7 days had highs above 45 degrees. Precipitation for January was 146% of normal (good start to the year) and we received 22” of snow. The highest winds gust was 57mph on the 4th. FYI: winds speeds at 58 mph and higher typically start to damage leafless trees.
- Boston’s 6 straight days (12/28-1/2) below 20 degrees were its 2nd longest in recorded history.
- February: We averaged 6° above average each day, (same as in 2017!) and precipitation 133% of average, yay, 2 wet months in a row!) Once again the 2nd half of February was record warm mild. The high was 72° (record high for the date) and the low was 1°. We had 6 days where the high was 35 or lower. The coldest high temperature was 26°. 5 nights stayed above freezing. 15 days had highs above 45 degrees. We had 18 days where the temperature was 40° or higher. We had 11” of snow. Winds gusted to 43mph on the 2nd.
- In Boston this was the warmest February on record. Then March came!
- March: so far…3 nor’easters in the first 13 days! The storm on the 7th & 8th (16” here in Acton) while less than the 22” on the 13th that 16” was one of the heaviest snows in our lifetime. Many businesses and schools were closed a 2nd day because so many trees and branches were still blocking roads. It was like driving though an obstacle course. The temperature roller coaster continues, 61° on the 1st and then 21° on the 12th and then 12 °on the 18th, which season are we heading into??? We are averaging 2° a day below average. We have had 38” of snow. Precipitation is at 228% for the month so far and 159% for the year. Winds gusted to 70mph on the 2nd
- Spring Forecast: The rest of March will be cold with April & May above average precipitation and temperatures, so a wet and warm spring.
Plant Material Issues
The roller coaster weather this winter was tough for our plant material. Once plants wake up, say during those 70-degree days in February, when it gets cold again, they don’t go dormant again and are vulnerable to those cold temperatures.
The quick turnaround of temperatures was particularly hard on the conifers and evergreens that don’t really go dormant in winter like the deciduous plant materials do. How awake were our evergreens when it was 61° on January 13th? Pretty awake. Did they shut down fast enough with the cold temperatures, 9 degrees on 15th? In addition to this winter’s erratic temperatures, the winds in the last three months were quite strong. Wind played a role in the storms we had, as well as bringing in the warm air and then the cold again and again. This too can desiccate evergreen plants. All of these factors can cause evergreens to suffer winter burn. The signs of winter burn are the leaves turning brown or black and dying; sometimes the whole plant can die. This begins as a yellow tinge on the needles, or leaves turning to brown or black. Evergreens also suffer lingering problems from the 2-year-old drought. This is especially true for hemlocks, rhododendrons, and other shallow rooted plant material. Any plant less than three years old is also at risk since its root system is not fully developed. I’ve seen a lot of winter burn damage this winter.
Deciduous Plants: Lots of trees and shrubs buds were swelling and some started to open in the warm weather in February. I would expect some loss of flowering on those plants.
Another challenge for the plant material this winter was the lack of snow cover at times. We received 47” of snow in the December-February winter season, right about average. We had many melting periods in between snows so the snow kept leaving us. A deep layer of snow insulates the ground, keeping the soil temperature at a relatively warm 32° as temperatures plummet. The snow also keeps the soil cool as temperatures rise well above freezing. The insulating snow protects the roots from temperature extremes and erratic variation. Without this insulating layer, the roots were vulnerable this winter.
We also sometimes have relatively mild days where the upper plant wakes up when the sun is on it but the ground is shaded and roots stay frozen. As it gets warm, the upper plant wants water but can’t get water from the frozen ground. This also leads to desiccation and die-back of leaves, stems, branches and sometimes the whole plant.
What to Look for This Spring
Moving into spring, watch out for the following issues on your property:
- Dead trees: If you have had a tree die, have it checked for the Asian Long Horn Beetle. We can do this for you. This is by far the most dangerous pest issue in our area and could wipe out over 90 percent of our trees. Our tax dollars are hard at work on this problem, and we can help by spotting the beetle.
- Damaged tree bark: Bark that has been eaten or rubbed away at the bases of trees or along the branches indicates voles, rabbits or deer. Holes could indicate borers or woodpeckers.
- Damaged trees and shrubs: Watch for branches in your trees that are broken off (hangers), cracked, or otherwise damaged. Check trees and shrubs for slits, cracks, or splits on the branches, main stems, and trunk. Check the south sides of woody plants in particular.
- Dry plants: Especially check on hillsides where the water drains quickly. Look for swelling and budding/leaf breakage and wilting plants or a slowdown in growth. Also, check your most recent plantings and plants that get full sun.
What Can You Do for Your Plants and Lawn?
- Most plants need a great deal of water in the spring, so keep an eye on the moisture and how regular the rain is during the rest of March, April, and May. In particular, water new plantings (planted in 2014-2017) so the plants have water when they need it.
- Stay off soaked lawns and beds as much as possible to avoid compaction.
- Transplant any plants that have heaved out of the ground ASAP.
- All the roots on your lawn will die and the grass will start to grow new roots. Avoid raking your lawn during that transformation.
- Deer will still be eating in our yards until plants start growing in the forests. If deer eat part of your plant, wait until at least Memorial Day before you do any pruning on that part of the plant. Don’t fertilize the plant. Water as necessary. With last fall being a good acorn year (thank you oaks), most deer have stayed in the forests eating their favorite food, acorns.
- Prune damaged or diseased woody plant material.
- Put down vole repellant in your plant beds. Rake up vole damage on lawns after the new roots have taken hold.
- Have your lawn team pick up the lawn clippings from the first cut of the year and bag them so the winter fungus is removed from your lawn. The first cut should be at 2” high with subsequent cuts at 3.5”. If the grass cuttings are not bagged, your lawn is at risk of having fungus problems later (August) in the year.
- Seed any bare spots in your lawn so you have competition for the crab grass seed in the soil.
- Fertilize your bulbs and put down vole repellant in the bulb area.
- Fun Facts from winter school: if you had 2 flies with food and no predators, at the end of the year, the earth would be covered 8’ deep with flies. (In a year!) Same thing with ticks, the earth would be covered 2’ deep with ticks. Reminds me that 98% of the bugs are beneficial insects and along with the birds, etc. keeping all this in balance.
- Winter Moth: not expected to be a problem this year.
- Gypsy Moth: Last June’s wet weather released the virus that killed most (80%) of the moths. This year it is expected to have fewer moths than last year especially if we have good rains in May and June.
- Where do butterflies go at night? They go up in trees, sit on a branch, fold their wings together so they look like a leaf and hang out there.
- Spraying Trees for pest control: This is a tough call. I might get the targeted pest, but I also probably got up to 2,000 beneficial insects living on that tree. Someone in Oregon sprayed a line of flowering trees; the next day there were between 25,000 – 50,000 dead bees – ouch!
- Reminder: When a licensed pesticide applicator (which I am one) tells you what they are using is safe, what they are saying is that as long as the product is applied according to the label, which is the law, no human being will become ill or worse that day (no acute reaction will happen).
- Late Start: to the season. It looks like it will be the first week in April before we can really start our season. Appreciate your patience.
- While climate and weather-wise, spring starts (or is supposed to) on March 1st, winter weather can visit us in March, April, and even May in New England.
I look forward to a great and long growing season this year. Happy Spring!
Thank you for your trust and your business.
More pest info to follow.