Record heat and recent snowfall – what’s it mean for our plants

Mon. Feb. 27, 2017

Click below to listen to my Garden Bite radio show:  Record heat and recent snowfall – what’s it mean for our plants

We’ve broken records with a heat wave that’s made it feel more like April than February, while I enjoyed it, our plants are confused.  Trees budding out, tulips popping out of the soil and the weeds already saying HELLO!  Then, snow!  The worry for us is really about heaving.

‘Hens and chicks’ heaving

Wide temperature fluctuations, with repeated cycles of freezing and thawing, cause the water in the soil to expand and contract. These repeated expansions and contractions push and turn plants and their roots. The result is heaving of the crowns. They are pushed up out of the soil breaking some roots and exposing other roots above soil level. The elevated crowns and roots are exposed to cold temperatures and drying winds. They may be seriously damaged, stunted or killed.

Snowfall is a great insulator but not everyone got it!  Take a tour of your gardens and if you see examples of frost heaving, top dress with compost or quality soil and GENTLY tamp it down.  Don’t squish it down hard and call it good.  That doesn’t work with all plants!

Perennials with shallow root systems (strawberries, heuchera, scabiosa, leucanthemum, galliardia, bergenia) or those that have been planted recently and have not had time to establish adequate root systems are prone to frost heaving.

Heuchera frost heave

Someone asked about their hostas coming up, well, honestly, you can’t hardly kill them even if you try!  They are a hardy bunch, for the most part.  And your tulips?  They should be fine.

The tough part is if they bud out and then we get a hard freeze.  That’s when we lose the flowers.  I know locally of a cherry farmer who lost his entire crop last year due to that same situation.  Unfortunately that’s a possibility this year too.  Once the plants start thinking it’s Spring, they can’t stop their process, it can be slowed, but the wheels are in motion.  What that means is that we have to carefully monitor our plants.


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