Winter Is Here!
According to the calendar, winter officially arrived Dec. 21. But winter weather blew into northern New York a few weeks before that and now we’re in the midst of winter at its most challenging.
I love a good snow storm; to me, that’s perfect winter weather. Yes, there are plenty of challenges to managing snow but at least it insulates the ground, is pretty to look at, and fun to play, ski or snowshoe in.
But the ice storm of last week, followed by sub-zero temperatures this week, are no one’s idea of a good time, not even mine. How are our plants coping?
As anyone who was here for the Ice Storm of 1998 knows, ice can do major damage to trees and shrubs.
Many shrubs can re-grow pretty well even if cut to the ground, but it may take a few years for them to resume their size and form. Deciduous plants, those that lose their leaves such as lilac, spirea and forsythia, are quite resilient and will either spring back once the weight is relieved or else grow back if they have to be cut to the ground. Evergreen shrubs including cedars, mugo pines and rhododendrons may be more disfigured and take longer to regrow after extensive damage.
I was hoping the ice would melt off within a few days, but the extended cold period is preventing that. At least it hasn’t been windy, let’s hope it stay that way. It’s hard enough for the branches to hold up all that weight, but if those stiff, heavy branches start swinging around in the wind, breakage is sure to follow.
Trees have similar challenges as shrubs but they are less able to grow replacement limbs.
Most of the maples and oaks and all the apples I’ve seen so far seem to be holding up. Birches are very flexible and can bend almost in half without breaking. They often recover fine once the ice is off but sometimes the trunk can be flexed so much that the interior layers of tissue separate. If that happens the tree may never be able to straighten up completely and the tree may need replacing.
In many cases some careful pruning can help plants recover. You will want to remove broken limbs and make smooth cuts for the bark to eventually grow over. Use a sharp pruning saw and do not coat the pruning cuts with any wound sealing paint. The trees will heal better if left uncoated.
Use extreme caution when working with saws and ladders. You can wait until the ice has melted, do not risk falling while handling sharp equipment. For valuable trees hire a trained arborist who will know best what cuts to make to help your trees survive.
As if the ice wasn’t enough, we’re heading into some seriously frigid weather this week. Luckily, the temperature has been pretty consistently cold this past month. We may not like it but it’s best for the outdoor plants if they get cold and stay cold, rather than have a roller-coaster up and down between deep freezes and thaws.
The snow cover is dense which will help insulate the ground but I am concerned about the thick coating of ice. Snow is porous and allows for gas exchange but a thick sheet of ice is impermeable. We will have to wait and see if any damage results from this potentially suffocating layer of ice.
Winter is just getting started; it will be interesting to see what January brings.
Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension, Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County, 561-7450; Essex County, 962-4810; Franklin County, 483-7403. Website: www.cce.cornell.edu/ecgardening. Email questions to askMG@cornell.edu.