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 2018: Following a November with temperatures 4 degrees below average each day, precipitation was at 233% percent of the norm, with 9” of snow; in December we were 2 degrees a day above average in temperature’s and precipitation was 121% of average with no snow. Quite the change from our cold November. The lowest temperature in December was +13°, and 65° was the highest. The coldest high temperature was 27°. We had 10 mornings below 20 degrees and 13 days where the high was 35 or below. Six nights stayed above freezing. We had 8 days with highs of 45 or more. Again we had no snow. Winds gusted to 49 mph on the 29h.
- 2018 Notes: So, the last 3 months of the year we finished with the 2nd wettest autumn on record, and one degrees a day below average temperature-wise. We ended the calendar year with 131% of average precipitation, 5th wettest on record. After 2 consecutive years of severe drought in 2015 & 2016, 2018 was a wet year, which was good to see, as we are still replenishing our ground water. February and August were the warmest on record for those months. November was the wettest month with 9.76”.
- January: January temperatures were right at average. The highest temperature of the month was 59° and the lowest was -7°. The coldest high temperature was 4 degrees. We had 22 mornings below 20 degrees and four mornings were 0 or below. We had 23 days where the high was 35 or lower. On one night, the low stayed above freezing. 3 days had highs above 45 degrees. Precipitation for January was 125% of normal (a good start to the year) and we received 12” of snow. The highest wind gusts were 53 mph on the 24th. FYI: wind speeds at 58 mph and higher typically start to damage leafless trees.
- February: We averaged 1° above average each day and precipitation was 100% of average. The 2nd half of February was colder than the first half. The high was 65° and the low was 0°. The coldest high temperature was 16°. We had 13 mornings below 20 degrees and 17 days where the high was 35 or lower. We had one night that stayed above freezing, and 3 days had highs above 45 degrees. We had 14” of snow. Winds gusted to 65mph on the 25th.
- March: so far, 16” of snow in the first 4 days! Over the last 2 years March has been the snowiest month, will that happen this year?
- Spring Forecast: The rest of March will be cold, with above average precipitation and temperatures in April & May so a wet and warm spring overall.
Plant Material Issues
The roller coaster weather this winter was tough for our plant material. Once plants wake up, for example from February 4-8, we had 2 days in the sixties, a day in the fifties and 2 days in the forties, that was 5 warm days in a row. When it gets cold again, (16° on the 12th), the plants don’t go dormant again and are vulnerable to those 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 when it was 65° on February 5th? Pretty awake. Did they shut down fast enough with the cold temperatures, 12 degrees on 12th? 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. On February 25 & 26th we had a 2-day windstorm with no precipitation: just gusty winds up to 65mph, the strongest winds of the winter. (I could almost hear my rhododendron say please help me) How often do we have just a windstorm here? These strong winds 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 signs of winter burn damage this winter.
Deciduous Plants: Lots of trees and shrub 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 26” of snow in the December-February winter season here in Acton. That is less than ½ of average. Boston is at 14”, which is about 1/3 of their 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° when 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 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, 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 2015-2018) 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. It is always smart to have a few oaks on your property.
- 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: report soon
- Gypsy Moth: report soon
- Where do butterflies go at night? They go up in trees, sit on a branch and 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. (Especially it is an Oak or a Maple). 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 (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.
- Late Start?: To the season. We hope to start cleanup the week of 3/18 if the weather cooperates; we are pruning orchards etc now. 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.