In this unusually mild winter, and a particularly warm February, it is unsurprising for gardeners to pronounce the end of cold winters forever, all due, of course, to the warming of the planet. Certainly, I cannot recite numbers to document temperatures changes, but from a gardener’s prospective I can confirm exceptionally mild winters in four of six years. Also through this period were consecutive winters with long periods of below freezing temperatures and multiple days below zero for the first time in a few decades, so while warm winters are not a given, extremes in one direction or the other seem guaranteed.
I am only an observer, sometimes a victim of the cold, and this winter the beneficiary of the unusual warmth, so it is not for me to understand the significance of these extreme variations. Gardeners are prone to expecting the worst, so I would not be at all surprised if next winter swings back the other way, though I acknowledge that the odds favor warmer rather than colder.
A few days ago, I received by mail order three small trees from Oregon that could never be found in the garden center. A month ago, I decided on late February delivery to minimize the chances that these oddities would be frozen in transit, or while waiting for me to put them into pots. I figured that trees arriving from Oregon would be dormant, and was surprised that they were beginning to leaf. Probably, these were growing in a protected structure, a greenhouse or covered house, and now, the challenge will be to protect the fragile foliage from damage until the threat of freeze is past. While recent temperatures have been in the seventies, somewhat colder weather is on the way, and any drop into the twenties will be a problem for the tender leaves.
Three small Japanese maples delivered a few weeks ago are partially submerged in soil in one large container, and besides slightly swelling buds these show no sign of leafing any time soon. For these, I have no concern, and they’ll be moved into smaller pots sometime in the next few weeks. There’s no rush, but the the three newly delivered, partially leafed trees will have to remain protected, probably by moving them back and forth from the slightly warmer garage, and then back outdoors for sunlight.
For the over enthusiastic gardener, thinking that spring has arrived, there’s a danger in getting started too early, and probably garden centers will be cautious and not stock petunias or other tender annuals until the time is right. At this point in late winter, there’s no problem in planting woodies and dormant perennials, and recently I’ve planted a few more hellebores. It was, of course, essential to add a few new varieties to the many dozens I’ve already planted, and even if temperatures should drop into the teens, these should not have a problem.
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I can imagine even some professional growers are in two minds about when they should be despatching plants this season.
Weekend temperatures should be the worst of the cold, but certainly there is concern as leaves emerge weeks earlier than usual.