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, looks like late March not late February as I write this. As we begin the growing year, here is a summary of the temperatures and precipitation of the winter months:
- December 2019: Following a November that had temperatures 5 degrees a day below average (which was even colder than November of 2018) and precipitation was at 72% percent of the norm. December’s temperatures we hit the average here in Acton and 3 degrees a day above average in Boston. December’s precipitation was 173% of average. Acton had 24” of snow and Boston had 12” of snow. Most of that snow came at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend. The lowest temperature in December was +6°, and 55° was the highest. The coldest high temperature was 17°. We had 9 mornings below 20 degrees and 18 days where the high was 35 or below. Two nights stayed above freezing. We had 8 days with highs of 45 or more. Winds gusted to 46mph on the 15th
- 2019 Notes: We finished with the 3rd wettest autumn on record, and one degree a day below average temperature-wise. We had 43 rainy days this autumn. November was the wettest month with 10.00”. We ended the calendar year with 115% of average precipitation and one degree a day above average in temperature.
- January: January temperatures were 8 degrees a day above average. The highest temperature of the month was 68 (74 in Boston, 3rd time ever there) and the lowest was +8°. The coldest high temperature was 20 degrees. We had 8 mornings below 20 degrees and no mornings were 0 or below. We had 12 days where the high was 35 or lower. On five nights, the low stayed above freezing. 8 days had highs above 45 degrees. Precipitation for January was 60% of normal and we received 3” of snow. The highest wind gusts were 56 mph on the 12th. FYI: wind speeds at 58 mph and higher typically start to damage leafless trees.
- February: We averaged 6° above average each day and precipitation was 100% of average. The high was 62° and the low was 4°. The coldest high temperature was 26°. We had 6 mornings below 20 degrees and 11 days where the high was 35 or lower. We had four nights that stayed above freezing, and 10 days had highs above 45 degrees. We had 2” of snow. Winds gusted to 56mph on the 7th.
- March: So far, 1 cold day and 4 very warm days. Over the last 2 years March has been the snowiest month, will that happen this year?
- Spring Forecast: Forecast is for wet and mild temperatures.
Plant Material Issues
- 2 Main Ones I See: 1) Spring of 2019 had a surprising high plant mortality rate, after a mild winter. Researchers seem to think it was the abrupt cold weather we had in November of 2018. November of 2019 was similar, after a warm start to fall we had our 10th coldest November on record. Will we see the same amount of plant damage this spring?
2) The roller coaster weather this winter can be tough for our plant material. Once plants wake up, for example from January 11-12, we had 2 days in the high sixties, (70’s in Boston) followed by 4 days above freezing and then on the 18th was 8 degrees. My south facing birches woke up during that warm period and the buds started swelling. When it got cold again, on the 18th the plants don’t go dormant again and therefore are even more vulnerable to later rapid temperature changes.
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 during the roller coaster weather pattern we had in January and then again in February? Did they shut down fast enough when we did get the occasional cold weather? Our new winter pattern seems to be where we have mild temperatures and then occasional shots of cold weather. No more January thaws to hope for, we live in thawed weather now. We had 23 days in January that were above 35.
Deciduous Plants: Lots of trees and shrub buds were swelling and some started to open in the warm weather in January & 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 24” of snow in the December here in Acton. The rest of winter we had 5” of snow. That is less than ½ of average. Boston is at 14”, which is about 1/3 of their average. We have had many melting periods in between snows, so the little snow we were getting kept melting. A deep layer of snow insulates the ground, keeping 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 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 dieback 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 (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 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.
- Water Soaked Plants: Plants in depressions or low spots where the water pools and can drown the roots or root 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, April, and May. In particular, water new plantings (planted in 2016-2019) so the plants have water when they need it. With the warmer temperatures that are our new normal the plants need more water.
- 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 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.
- 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 last fall 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, lets 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 3/16 (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.
- I look forward to a great and long growing season this year. Happy Spring!
- Thank you for your trust and your business.