Monday, January 25, 2016

Cold Winter's Night

2013 Illinois River flooding in Peoria IL
There are always two sides to every coin and the mild winter we’re experiencing is no exception.  We live in an area of this world where we are “meant” to have below freezing winter weather.  Here's some thoughts on what we might expect if we continue to have an unusually mild winter:

To keep the number of insects in check, we need a cold winter.  It will be great if we get a sudden freezing winter right now.  That will mean the Japanese Beetles and some other destructive insects may not have burrowed down below the freeze line and will be destroyed.  Oh "YES" on everything bad that happens to Japanese Beetles. 
2014 Wind storm
Most beneficial insects have already left the area or have protected themselves in their winter sleeping quarters.  

Some of our perennials must have freezing weather to cycle successfully.  Many spring blooming bulbs need to have a period of ground freeze.

Perennial flowers may bloom and have beautiful leaves in December - they're a little confused.  They need a period of dormancy to produce next year.  Having flowers in December may be oddly fun but it’s more fun to have them when we can be in the garden to enjoy.
When hell freezes over.
Typically, plants enter winter dormancy from being exposed to shorter days.  This causes the plant to stop growing, conserve energy and buds will be covered by a protective bud scale.  Secondly they become dormant by exposure to low temperatures, at or below freezing, for at least part of the daily cycle.  This causes changes in the plant’s metabolism, which causes changes in the plants chemicals.  The plant’s carbohydrate (sugar) reserves go into storage and this allows the plant tissues to withstand cold temperatures (it acts like plant antifreeze.)  It’s a whole lot more involved than this but you get the idea.

1978 BIG snow
Some of our native grasses and wildflowers self-seed and those seeds need to be frozen to open in the spring.

Although animal lovers may find this harsh, a cold winter culls out the weak and diseased.  It also prevents an overabundance.  Nature always needs balance and when there’s a warm winter you can count on too many wild animals vying for limited food and shelter.

It helps to have a deep freeze to stunt back some weeds.
Heavy fog while driving

Trees, bushes and perennial garden plants may be fooled into thinking it’s spring and may have buds that produce.  These will eventually be nipped by frost and freezing weather meaning a loss of production next summer. 

It’s good news that our current fall/winter has been a wet one.  This allows plants to store moisture and will help protect them when winter finally comes and from winter desiccation (loss of moisture through leaves.)  Desiccation can cause what is typically called “winter kill”.
2015 early snow
On the other hand, a deep layer of snow is the perfect insulation for a very cold harsh winter.  Without a deep layer of snow, some perennials may suffer especially when cold winds come.  Winter winds and freeze/thaw during the winter will cause more damage than a deep frozen soil.

For as much as the media and interest groups talk weather gloom and doom, there isn't very much long term research available yet.  If we are indeed at the beginning of “Climate Change and Global Warming” (and that does have plenty of differing opinions) then we can expect to see more scientific research written about it in the future.

Will our winters be so short or mild that some North-temperate zone plants may not bloom or survive?  Until more data is accumulated on ALL native species over a long period – including insects, it will be hard to predict the dangers and benefits.  We do know from the history of plants, many adapt or change their internal structure.
2015 early wet snow and wind
Those of us involved in the plant world, whether as gardeners, plant nurseries/growers or in food production, should monitor the research and news coming out of research facilities/universities.  We know and understand there has always been change and a prudent grower seeks to understand and plan. It also means we are responsible stewards of this little portion of the earth where we reside and need to hand a healthy world to our next generations. 

We also need to stop getting sucked into the alarmist drama by people who want to hear their self talk or have ulterior motives.      

What do I think of the world environmental plan currently on every news site and the newest legacy hope of our current President?  Some of it is so B-movie it's laughable.  Other measures are long past due.  Self interest groups on both sides of the agenda are hurting the effort more than promoting.  With a public so jaded by the world media and politics,  another round of climate change talk is bound to bounce off the average listener. 

Even though the reality of a world destroyed by poor natural resource stewardship is certain if things don't change, getting the public to buy into measures to prevent this damage is a tough sell.  

Currently, teaching individual responsibility for one's climate is impossible when we are failing to teach individual responsibility for even the most basic of life's situations.  You cannot expect the average citizen to become alarmed about the future if they can't embrace care for their neighbors today.

Right now, our media and government doesn't have a clue on how to instill that care and responsibility and until it figures out how to endear people to their cause, it will be left to the few who actually practice good stewardship.   

I always feel encouraged when I talk to other gardeners because most "get it" and they practice on a small scale.   We can do our part, learn the facts - real facts and encourage our neighbors.  

And for those that are saying, "Clearly, you would be as hysterical as we are if you were smart enough to understand what's being said."  Clarity is the issue.  If you dig down into the actual research, you will find respected researchers saying they need many more years of accruing data to draw accurate conclusions.  We have some strong facts but what they actually mean and their long term affects is not so clear.  

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