Greetings! All kinds of signs of spring are present as I look at my property and others’; bulbs are coming up, tree buds are swelling, and the windy month of March has the temperatures going from the 70’s to the teens so far. As we begin the growing year, here is a summary of the temperatures and precipitation of the winter months:
- December 2020: Following a November that had temperatures 5 degrees a day above average and precipitation that was at 139% percent of the norm, December’s temperatures were 3 degrees a day above average and December’s precipitation was 176% of average. Acton had 23” of snow and Boston had 13” of snow.
- The lowest temperature in December was +11°, and 61° was the highest. The coldest high temperature was 21°. We had 9 mornings below 20 degrees and 13 days where the high was 35 or below. 5 nights stayed above freezing. We had 8 days with highs of 45 or more. Winds gusted to 47mph on the 5th.
- 2020 Notes: Precipitation: Here in Acton, I came in at 98% of average, the heavy rains of the fall had us make up for a dry rest of the year. Boston was not as fortunate, it finished at 80%. Temperatures averaged 3 degrees a day above average. We had winds up to 70 mph on 10/7.
- January: January temperatures were 3 degrees a day above average. The highest temperature of the month was 47 and the lowest was 0°. The coldest high temperature was 15 degrees. We had 10 mornings below 20 degrees and no mornings were below 0. We had 16 days where the high was 35 or lower. On two nights, the low stayed above freezing. One day had a high above 45 degrees. Precipitation for January was 65% of normal and we received 7” of snow. The highest wind gusts were 47 mph on the 17 FYI: wind speeds at 58 mph and higher typically start to damage leafless trees.
- February: We averaged 1° below average each day and precipitation was 100% of average. The high was 46° and the low was 8°. The coldest high temperature was 24°. We had 14 mornings below 20 degrees and 18 days where the high was 35 or lower. We had one night that stayed above freezing, and 2 days had highs above 45 degrees. Acton had 32” of snow. Boston had 15” of snow. Winds gusted to 49mph on the 1st.
- March: So far, 8 cold days, 4 very warm days and 3 average day. Very little rain. Very little rain. As of the 16th, precipitation is at 65% for the year. It’s very dry and with the strong March winds we have had many high fire danger days. If you walk on your lawn and it is really wet or mushy, that is probably because the first 2-3″ of the ground has thawed but the deeper subsoil is still frozen so the water can’t percolate through the soil. It is good to stay off he lawn during this time.
- Remember May 9th of 2020, we got 1-2” of snow outside of Boston.
- Spring Forecast: Forecast is for slightly above average temps and average precipitation.
Plant Material Issues
- Three Main Ones I See: 1) 73 degrees on March 11th, 63 degrees on March 12th and then 11 degrees on March 15th. March sun is warm and plants are waking up, water and carbohydrates start entering the plants vascular systems from the roots then, red alert, bam 11 degrees on the 15th. Did the plant shut down fast enough so the water didn’t freeze and burst the vascular system? Up till this point our winter was mostly a consistent one, not to mild and not to cold. Especially compared to recent winters.
- The quick turnaround of temperatures can be 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 during the roller coaster weather pattern we had here in March? Did they shut down fast enough when we did get the cold weather?
- 2) Up until October 1st we were really dry. In response to this we had early fall colors and the trees dropped their leaves early this past fall to compensate for the lack of water. Did the plants soak up some of that beneficial fall rain that started in October and went on through December or were the plants shut down and dormant?
- 3) We got 32” of snow in the first 8 days of February. It stayed cold enough for most of it to be around as we entered March. It rained about 1.5” while we had that snow on the ground. That 32” of snow and then the 1.5’ rain that fell into that snow was really putting heavy pressure on our lawns, probably causing compaction issues as it just sat there for a month.
Deciduous Plants: Lots of trees and shrub buds were swelling and some started to open in the warm weather in March. I would expect some loss of flowering on those plants.
In February the deep layer of snow insulated the ground, kept the soil temperature at a relatively warm 32° when temperatures plummet. Conversely, the snow also keeps the soil cool as temperatures rise well above freezing so the plants don’t wake up. The insulating snow protects the roots from temperature extremes and erratic variation. Without this insulating layer, the roots can be vulnerable. So, February was a mild month for most plants though a cold one for us humans.
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 (they are doing an awesome job), 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.
- Splits on the tree bark: Especially on the south facing bark. Check trees and shrubs for slits, cracks, or splits on the branches, main stems, and trunk.
- Damaged trees and shrubs: Watch for branches in your trees that are broken off (hangers), cracked, or otherwise damaged.
- Dry plants: Especially check on hillsides where the water drains quickly. Look for leaf cracking, wilting plants or a slowdown in growth. Also, check your most recent plantings and plants that get full sun.
- Water-Soaked Plants: Plants in depressions or low spots where the water pools and can drown the roots or rot the bark.
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, (it has been dry so far) April, and May. In particular, water new plantings (planted in 2017-2020) so the plants have water when they need it. With the warmer temperatures that are our new normal the plants need more water.
- Deer will still be eating with last fall being a good acorn year (thank you oaks), most deer have stayed in the forests eating their favorite food, acorns. It is always smart to have a few oaks on your property. If deer did 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.
- Prune damaged or diseased woody plant material.
- Stay off soaked lawns and beds as much as possible to avoid compaction.
- Have your lawn core aerated to get some air back into its root system.
- 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.
- 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.
- Eco Lawn Service: Most of our equipment is now battery operated (we have a few gas blowers for the heavy leaf clean up in the fall). That said, we do not mow lawns. If you are interested in having your lawn mowed by a company that mows lawns with battery machines, let me know and I can see who might be a good match for you. This is crazy, I can drive my F350 to San Francisco and pollute less than a gas lawn mower does in 6 hours.
- Fertilize your bulbs and put down vole repellant in the bulb area if you have tulips.
- Winter Moth: Counts are very low and are not considered an issue at this time.
- Gypsy Moth: 2015-2018 Counts were high in those years, 90% of gypsy moth have since died off. Pray we have a wet late May and June.
- Spotted Lantern Fly: It is the new bug in town. It came in the fall of 2019 on poinsettias from Pennsylvania. It is a large insect, about an inch long, with black spots and red underwings. Very noticeable. Massnrc.org/pest/slf is the place to report any potential sightings.
- 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. (Especially it is an Oak or a Maple). It is reported that since the 1960’s we have had a 76% decline of flying insects and a 40% decline in the number of birds.
- Pesticides History Reminder: After WWII we had all these chemical weapons left over. What to do, destroy them, not so much, let’s sell them to farmers and homeowners. 3 chemicals you especially might NOT want to have used on your property are chlorpyrifos (Nazis developed it) neonicotinoids and dicamba.
- The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). In 2017 the interior dept. issued a policy that relieved the industry of the requirements to protect birds and that they will not be held accountable for bird deaths. What we can do is help the birds on our properties and in our neighborhoods.
- Bird Feeders: If you or your neighbors feel you must spray your trees, now would be a time to put up a bird feeder so the birds have a good source of food. Cover the bird feeders when the trees are being sprayed. See my 2019 Learnings Letter from last fall for more info.
- Bubble Bees: Losing habitat, they need more native flowers.
- When a licensed pesticide applicator (such as myself) tells you that 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). It does not address long-term exposure issues. That is why they don’t want you walk on the lawn for a couple of days so you don’t bring the poison into your house.
- Start to the season: We hope to start spring cleanups the week of 3/22 (if the weather cooperates;) we are pruning orchards and deciduous trees and shrubs now. Looking forward to seeing you!
- 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. The latest big snow storm in Southern New England was May 7, 1977.
- Inspirational Movies/Stories
- The Biggest Little Farm
- The Need to Grow
- I look forward to a great and long growing season this year. Happy Spring!
- Thank you for your trust and your business.