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Think you’ve got Mother Nature figured out? Think again, sucka


Since most of the country (and Canada) is in the grips of the polar vortex I’ll spare you my tale of woe and the pictures from my cell phone of the thermometer on my car. School’s been cancelled due to the cold for two days now and one of our buildings at work is without heat but my main concern regarding all this cold weather isn’t of a personal nature, unless you count the head banging I’m likely to do when I assess the damage to the garden come spring.

There’s not like getting a little over confident about the weather to have Mother Nature laugh in your face.

I’ve been doing my fair share of zone pushing lately. That is, planting perennials, shrubs and trees that are rated for a zone warmer than where you garden. Well, sort of. From the time I started gardening here, it has been zone 5a. A couple years ago the USDA announced a new zone map, bumping us up to 5b. I’ve been more than a little skeptical, particularly since I sometimes thought that even the 5a designation was optimistic, as just a bit inland it was 4b territory (and now 5a).

Anyway, as far as hardiness goes, I only really breath easy with a zone 4 plant, but often buy zone 5a plants without a lot of worry. After all I’ve lost far more plants to poor siting or a lack of consistent watering in the first season or the damn deer, and, well, winters just aren’t like they used to be. 
Or so I thought anyway. Climate change, I told myself. Winters just don’t get as cold anymore, I said. Oh sure we get a bad winter every once in a while, but that’s like what, every 25 years?

The low temperature (not windchill) here Monday night was somewhere around -20 and that is a problem. The USDA hardiness map for zone 5b is -10 to -15. Zone 4b is rated for -20 to -25. 

So what’s a gardener to do? Well, not much at this point, frankly. Fortunately we have a pretty good blanket of snow on the ground. If that wasn’t there I’d really be panicking. I’d be happier (from a gardening standpoint anyway) if we had gotten some of the several inches of snow that fell in the states south and west of us so that blanket would be even thicker. 
In fall I did some protection of the plants I deemed to be most precious or most suseptable to winter damage from weather or critters. A couple of new small trees including a gingko and a Japanese Maples got cages stuffed about halfway with leaf mulch. 
This is what the Venus dogwood looked like until the week (pay no attention to the pile of branches and burlap it was about to be dressed with). 

But there’s one tree that has me particularly worried. It’s a Venus dogwood and I wrote about it last April and a few months later I was planting the biggest one I could get a mail order nursery to send me. I wrote about it when I was considering buying it and even then I admitted that it was a risk since it’s probably a zone 6a plant, even though some descriptions said it was hardy to zone 5b.

I really babied that tree last summer and in fall it got a nice thick layer of leaf mulch at its base and a full deer fence enclosure. But when I saw the forecast for this week, I thought it would be worth trying to do a bit more to save it.

I grabbed all the extra pine boughs I had from making my winter containers and stacked them  up at the base of the tree plus around the deer fence. Then I wrapped the entire thing in burlap. It was important that I didn’t do any of that any earlier because the snow piled up at its base should help it more than anything I can do and if I had burlapped it sooner, it would have missed the snow.

I also piled more branches around the new gingko and japanese maple as well as put a bit of burlap around the gingko. None of it is pretty, that’s for sure, and it’s not exactly the look I was going for out the living room winter, but I’m happy to give up my winter view for beauty the rest of the year.

The little Japanese maple just got a few branches stuck in its cage.

I have no idea if my last ditch efforts will make a difference and it will be a long wait to find out. I figure it will be May before I really know the extent of the damage. Doesn’t May seem like a lifetime away right now?

How’s your garden faring through the polar vortex?

6 Responses

  1. I'm late to the party, but depending on the distance from the house and availability of extension cords, regular (non-LED) Christmas lights inside the wrapping can add a few degrees of protection. I do that for my zone 9 desmettiana variegata agave (and babies!) in zone 8B Austin.

  2. You are so diligent protecting your tender plants. Hopefully they will make it with all the protection.

    And yes, it's been cold enough to kill off just about anything tender. I'm praying my newly planted rhododendrons make it through. Poor babies with their leaves curled up so tightly right now will have a lot of winter damage. Maybe all the snow will protect the roots of my gaura (I've never been able to keep one for too long).

    One more day of these horrid temperatures and then we're going above freezing for the weekend. Could this be the end of this polar vortex nonsense, I hope?

  3. Smart move with the branches etc. I am definitely worried as our snow cover is not that deep given these dreadful temps. I've been fighting vertigo for the last month so trips into the garden are not going to happen whatever the temp!

  4. It has yet to be seen – I don't think we will find out until spring what bit the big one. I was lucky that last year I lost nothing but the year before we had much more snow and I lost 15 plants, so I am clueless (more than normal). Stay warm, gal pal!!

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