Friday, March 14, 2014

R.I.P. Polar Vortex

One of our many blizzards.

According to the “Midwest Wine Press”, our wine grape crop (used to make wine) is predicted to be substantially curtailed during 2014 due to the cold winter.  Those predictions may set the price or availability of your favorite local wines.

University of Illinois Extension predictions for winter wheat and oats jumps around as they try to guess if the majority of the crops will have a yield.  Locally, our winter of snow cover may have helped that situation.
Our country road got a little deep at times.

Although there’s been much talk of a ruined orange crop, it appears Florida’s fruit and vegetable crops have not been damaged as much as originally thought.  I mention this as a cost issue for consumers.

Illinois peaches, apricots, nectarines and sweet cherries may fail to produce this year because the extreme cold has destroyed the buds.  Apple, pear, sour cherry and plum buds should have survived.  Later in the spring other factors such as extreme temperature changes, how sunny a freezing day is, how late in the spring these cold temperatures continue, the amount of freezing wind, and whether you turn around holding your nose with your left hand will tell the tale of this year’s fruit production.

If you’ve planted a tree, bush or perennial that is almost cold hardy in our Zone 5 with complete success over the past few years, those plants may not survive or will be damaged this year.  Some plants that may not survive the “Winter of 2014” are southern magnolia, nandina, pieris, and crape myrtle. If any “almost” warm climate trees die – you will have at least celebrated a few years of exceptionally lucky growing. 

There's an 18 inch raised garden bed under the windmill
and a driveway buried in front of the bed.
The extreme cold may not kill your plants, especially with the ample snow cover, but the fluctuations (especially rapid fluctuations) between warmth and cold is a plant killer.

Freezing and thawing may cause a plant to “heave” out of the ground exposing the roots to cold and drying winds.  Strawberries and chrysanthemums are prone to heaving.

Extension specialists are predicting spring flowering buds on forsythia, dogwood and lilac will not bloom but the plant won’t die. 

Plants in containers are toast and the pots will probably have cracked. 

Holly, boxwood, some Japanese maples and rhododendrons are especially prone to winter burn from wind.  Unless protected from cold wind, most will have to be pruned severely to remove the dead.  Evergreens continue to lose water through their leaves even in cold weather.  An extreme windy cold can cause needle drop at best or kill the tree at worst.  We may see many white pines loose their needles and eventually die this year. 
Snow pillows on the garden bench

Insects will have had a tough winter, too.  Those that winter above ground (or their eggs) may be killed.  Praying Mantis eggs may be killed unless they are under snow or protected.  The good news is the deep frost level may have killed grubs including Japanese beetles.

As the snow melts faster than the ground warms, some plants may sit in water too long and it will smother the root system or cause root rot.  A fast melt could cause most moisture to run off, taking precious top soil and little will be absorbed to combat drought.  Good news is it will eventually enter our waterways.  The bad news is large ice jams may do tremendous damage by ripping out vegetation as it moves.

Are spring and summer going to be a garden bust?  I’m sure there are many perennial plants getting ready to be absolutely beautiful.  Deal with the damage or death of those that were just too fragile for the Polar Vortex 2013-14 and move on to something else.   It may be of little comfort as you tally up the cost of damage in your yard or fields but it’s given the Midwesterner an opportunity to talk weather like crazy and feel slightly superior for having personally survived.


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