Inspirational Gardens
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Author Archives: John Rice

2017 Early Spring Bulletin

March 24th, 2017 | Posted by John Rice in Newsletter - (Comments Off on 2017 Early Spring Bulletin)

Greetings!  Looks like January and not spring as I write this during the windy snowstorm we are having.  Soon the March sun will do its magic and the snow will melt and that water will help our plants grow 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 2016: Following a November with temperatures 2 degrees above average each day and precipitation at 90 percent of the norm, in December we were right at average both temperature and precipitation. The lowest temperature in December was 1°, and 55° was the highest. The coldest high temperature was 18°. We had approximately 10 inches of snow. Winds gusted to 54 mph on the 15th. December of 2015 was the warmest on record, this year we were average.
  • So the last 3 months of the year we finished slightly above normal in precipitation which was a good trend to see. We ended the calendar year with 80 percent of average precipitation, after finishing 2015 at 74% of average. We continue to be in a 2-year drought and are about 20” short of precipitation between the 2 years.  2016’s temperatures came out about 2 degrees a day above average.
  • January: January temperatures averaged six degrees a day above average. The highest temperature of the month was 61° and the lowest was 2°. Six mornings were 15° or below. On ten nights the low stayed above freezing. Seven days had a high of 32° or below, and fourteen days had a high of 40° or above. The coldest temperature for a single day’s high was 19° on the ninth. Precipitation for January was 107 percent of normal (5 good months in a row), and we received 14 inches of snow.
  • February: We averaged 6 degrees above average each day, and precipitation was average (yay!). We had 25 inches of snow. The month felt like we had 2 weeks of winter and then spring came. The high was 73° (an all time February record high) and a low was 8 °. The coldest high temperature was 19°. Three mornings were 15° or below and on six days the highs were 32° or colder. On six nights we stayed above freezing. We had fourteen days where the temperature was 40° or higher. Winds gusted to 60 mph on the 9h.  Spring in February. Highs from the 22nd through the 25th ranged from 55 to 73 and then back into the mid 50’s and 60’s from the 27th through March 2nd.
  • FYI: winds speeds at 58 mph and higher typically start to damage leafless trees.
  • In Boston this was the 5th warmest winter. Climate and weather wise, December-January and February are considered winter. The equinoxes and solstices are for the astronomer’s seasons.
  • March: so far. 64° on the 1st, 9 on the 4th. The roller coaster continues. 57 on the 8th and then 8 on the 11th. We have had three days with highs above 55 and nine days the highs were below 35. Ten days we have had lows at 20 or below.  The high has been 64 and the low 6.  We are averaging 4 degrees a day below average. We have had 14” of snow.  Precipitation is at 105% for the month so far and 111% for the year. Winds gusted to 60mph on the 2nd and 57mph on the 14th during the snowstorm.
  • Spring Forecast: The rest of March and the spring are expected to have above average temperatures and precipitation could go either way.

Plant Material Issues

The roller coaster weather this winter was tough for our plant material. See March for 2 examples. Because snow cover was marginal or non-existent in many areas, depending on the thickness of the ground mulch, much of that cold could have penetrated down into the root systems. It is the cold penetrating the roots that can damage and even kill plants.

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. How awake were our evergreens when it was 64°? Pretty awake. Did they shut down fast enough with the cold temperatures only hours away? 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 twinge on the needle 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.

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. We received 49” of snow in the December-February winter season.  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.

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 2014-2016) so the plants have water when they need it.
  • Stay off the 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 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 first cut of the year and bag them so the 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 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.