The Weekly Gardener 1


Winter Days

First Snow


Trying to settle into the cold season rhythm and pretend not to notice how the days are growing shorter and shorter, good grief it's getting dark at five! The good news is that we're fast approaching the winter solstice when the process is starting to reverse. Won't make much of a difference in the short term, but still, positive.

The first snow came early this year, courtesy of a cold front that dropped in on us from the Arctic in November, but the weather turned mild and humid since, in sync with this year's pattern.

According to the long range weather forecast it seems that we're looking at a year with less precipitation and more temperature extremes than this one, and with any luck, an early spring. March promises to be exceedingly warm and rainy, just in time to give the plants a good head start.

Of course that is four months from now.

I just realized that if the weather holds this pattern the hellebores are going to bloom in January, so there's something to look forward to.


Dormant Garden


If you were wondering what happens to your perennials during their winter hibernation, here goes.

At the approach of winter they transform the sugars developed through photosynthesis into starch, which they can store inside their roots long term and use during the winter in the same way hibernating animals use stored fat.

After the first frost, the plants shed their aerial parts, which consume a lot of energy and through which they lose most of their water. Their dead foliage creates a blanket of organic matter around their roots to keep the soil from freezing by both insulating it and warming it up through the process of decomposition.

Underneath the soil, the roots release the water in their cells, to keep the plants' living tissue from being damaged; the water is released as a solution of salt and sugars which acts very much like antifreeze in the soil around the roots.

The plants slow down all their metabolic processes during the winter, to minimize energy consumption and ensure that their food stores last until the weather warms up again.

The bold evergreens that choose to brave the winter with their foliage intact slow down their metabolism significantly during the cold season too, and cover their leaves and needles with a thick coat of wax or resin to prevent cell damage and water loss as much as possible. They do have the advantage that they continue to generate energy via photosynthesis through the winter, as long as the water needed in the process is in usable form. When the water turns to snow and ice, they too turn to hibernation mode.

After learning that the plants need their fallen leaves for winter protection I kind of feel guilty about diligently raking the flower beds, but in previous years leaving a blanket of dead foliage had encouraged a weed bonanza.