Winter is the time for optimism

December 7, 2010

By Jane Garrison

My husband accuses me of complaining too much — always looking for the negative point of view. I insist I am only looking at all possibilities, so that when things happen that are not the worst, it makes me happy. He doesn’t believe it.

How do gardeners put a positive spin on that blast of snow and ice that came before Thanksgiving? We had below 14 degrees at night in our yard on the plateau. When it didn’t even thaw during the day, I started to worry. I know we lost my jasmine espalier, but the wonderful smell last summer made it worth the gamble. This winter according to weather gurus is under the influence of La Niña, and will be worse than usual. Is there anything positive for gardeners about that?

Warm winters these past few years have enticed us to grow more borderline plants. Beautiful evergreen shrubs that might do well in Seattle have been common here recently. We now see ceanothus in many varieties, a complete spectrum of flax plants, rockrose in all sizes and colors, many kinds of hebe and the evergreen clematis vine everywhere. Even old standbys such as some cotoneaster, sarcococca, skimmia and English laurel could be top-damaged with deep freezes.

This freeze was complicated by the fact that we had a thick snow blanket in place before the lowest temperatures hit. If you know that the temperatures are going to drop, do not shake that snow off. Keep it, because it will insulate your plants. Normally, my tender groundcovers turn brown with temperatures below 14 degrees. The short duration of the deep frost and the snow blanket saved them this time, and they are still green and beautiful.

The snow that you will want to shake off is the heavy, melting snow that is breaking down your leggy shrubs. When you know the deep freeze is past, go ahead and remove that weight. Just leave it alone on dense shrubs and groundcovers.

I like the native Western swordfern and have many huge ones in my yard. I prune them every year in the spring leaving all of the upright fronds. This year, all of the fronds are down flat. I will remove only the lower ones in the spring and leave a few to hold next year’s growth vertical. But I’m afraid they will be impacted for at least another year.

Don’t forget to water your plants in containers or under eaves. Be sure to keep all plants well watered in winter, because dry plants with open air pockets in the soil will freeze quicker than damp ones. In other words, air can be colder than water and snow.

When my husband optimistically extols the advantages of a huge snow pack for water and the skiing business, I can say, “Yeah? Maybe it will kill off a few slugs, mosquitoes and fleas.”

How’s that for optimistic?

Jane Garrison is a local master gardener and landscape architect who gardens in glacial till on the plateau.

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