February 9, 2014 (1)

Freezing is a state (presumably,  a transitory state) to which I am reluctantly becoming accustomed.  Freezing temperatures are the order of the day.   Freezing-what is that, exactly?  Water which is subjected to temperatures below 32 degrees transforms from a liquid state to a solid.  We commonly call frozen water ice.  We have ice just about everywhere.  Icy is an adjective that describes relationships gone bad, cold color schemes, the mini stalactites hanging from my gutters, the surface of my driveway, my windshield, and just about every street surface between me and work.  Icy means I need to dress in multiple layers-this takes a lot of time, and doesn’t always work so well. Well  below zero ice means I need to cover my face, lest my eyelashes freeze.   As I am a gardener, and not a scientist, I would define freezing as that state when the world more or less comes to an end.

ice.jpgThis section of the roof is always in shade, and the gutter stops up with little or no provocation.  Snow fills the gutter, and when subjected to extreme cold, we have ice filled gutters.  Once it overflows, icicles form.  Understanding the process makes it no less aggravating.  The lower part of the roof is laced with heat tape-no matter.  The snow has been heavy, the freezing has been severe, and long standing.

ice.jpgPlants have a mechanism for dealing with freezing that is much more efficient than mine.  Spring flowering hardy bulbs, for example, cannot be frozen through and through.  The usual cause for the failure of potted spring bulbs is a complete freeze.  The soil temperature is always higher than the air temperature.  Soil which is insulated with a thick layer of snow is less likely to freeze deep.

February 9, 2014 (11)Cold winter temperatures trigger a biochemical response in the bulb, which converts the starch in the bulb to glucose (sugar).  That glucose lowers the temperature at which the cells of the bulb will freeze.  Salting a walk does just about the same thing.  Salty water requires temperatures below freezing to freeze.  The ice on my street is a result of air temperatures that have been so low that even the salty water and snow freezes solid.

February 9, 2014 (13)Even small bulbs that are only planted a few inches below the soil surface are rarely bothered by extremely low temperatures.  When they are completely frozen and rot, there is usually a lack of snow cover.  The frost can penetrate the soil in Michigan as deep as 4 feet, but in a year with lots of snow, the frost is not near that deep.  Down below the frost line, the soil is a uniform 55 degrees, year round.

icicles.jpgThe technology exists to harness the ambient heat in the ground to heat cold buildings in the winter, and and cool hot buildings in the summer. Such a system transfers heat and cold, rather than producing it. 50 degree air on a below zero day is a lot of heat.  50 degree air on a 95 degree day is a lot of cooling.  The upfront cost of such a system is considerable.  I am sure someday that the technology will be simpler, and less expensive to install.

February-snow-in-Michigan.jpgIn the meantime, a 6 foot tall person walking down my sidewalk today would be completely hidden from view.  This frozen snow will need warmer air temperatures to melt.  A good bit of it will sublime, meaning it will pass from a solid to a gas without that intermediary melting stage.

old-and-new-snow.jpgThe snow plow did heave a lot of dirty frozen snow up over the curb. At least last night’s new snow freshened up the look.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgI am sure all of the tulips are safe and sound underneath our mountains of frozen snow.  It’s February, through and through.


Snow Day And Night

parrotia-in-January.jpgThe  pictures recovered from my iphone of the rose garden in June a few days ago were indeed a pleasant interlude.  However, the winter season is all over my garden.  Buck says we have 10-12 inches already on the ground, and our heaviest snowfall is yet to come.  Overnight, another 6 inches.  I have not one problem in the world with that.  Due to arrive shortly-zero and below temperatures.  I told Buck it was at least 20 years ago that I remember temperatures this cold.  Given an extremely low air temperature, I am glad that all of my plants have roots buried in the ground.  With the temperature set to drop to zero, I am further comforted by the insulation provided by all of this snow.

parrotia-in-winter.jpgWinter hardiness is an exact science, provided you factor in each and every one of the mitigating circumstances. OK, it is an inexact science. Plants reputedly hardy in my zone that are planted in poorly draining clay soil die out regularly.  Perennials and shrubs planted so late in the season that there is no time for any rooting to take place can be heaved out of the ground in a freeze/thaw/freeze period.  Marginally hardy plants placed in protected locations, and mulched for the winter stand a better chance of survival.

buried-stairs.jpgPlants have an extraordinary will to live.  They will suffer my careless planting and indifferent siting, my over watering, my thoughtless pruning and wrong headed culture without so much as a peep.  But once the insults reach a critical mass, a plant will die.  My garden starting slowing down this past August, and we have had fairly cold and snowy weather since November.  The garden couldn’t be more ready for the cold. I doubt that anything in my garden will be damaged by the brief but extreme cold to come. Dormant is dormant. The insulation that will result from all of this snow is a bonus.

Heavy snow does not keep any plant warmer.  The snow is an insulator.  It protects against any response to a rapid change in conditions.  With mulching, or insulation from snow, a plant that is frozen will most likely stay frozen until the time is right to grow.  Our temperature today was 29 degrees.  It has dropped precipitously to 9 degrees.  It is forecast to drop again to zero on Tuesday.  Once a plant has gone dormant, it is the hope that the dormancy will be maintained.  Up and down, freeze and thaw-big changes are not good changes.  If I have a mind to mulch a tender perennial for the winter, I do not apply the mulch until the ground is frozen.  The mulch will help frozen ground stay that way.

snow-day.jpgI dress in lots of layers in weather like this.  A turtle neck, a fleece jacket, a down vest and a down coat keeps me comfortable outside in cold weather.  Warm air is trapped by all of the layers.  My sheepskin winter boots, warmed by the radiator, will stay warm for several hours outdoors-the sheepskin holds the heat.  I am not looking for my winter gear to warm me up.  I only ask that it help me maintain a comfortable temperature outdoors.

heavy-snow.jpgI have been in and out all day today with my camera.  A snowfall of this magnitude is not an every day garden event.  Piling on the clothes prior to a garden visit is an event the corgis notice.  They know something is about to happen.  I have had them outside on and off all day today.  Though they are not equipped to handle really deep snow, they have been game.  Milo plows, and Howard follows in his tracks.

yew-topiary.jpgAt 7pm it was snowing even harder.  The snow had gotten more powdery, and the wind was blowing it around.

winter-storm.jpgThe light strings in the pots were unfazed by all the snow.  All else was a deep blue gray.

winter-pots.jpg)My winter pots-pretty fazed.  This is a moment when I am glad that we take such trouble to insure that the winter arrangements are secure.  The centerpieces go deep into the soil in the pots.  As that soil is frozen solid, it would take a lot to dislodge them.  The eucalyptus is preserved, and will bend before it breaks.

Buck.jpgBuck is not a whatever the weather guy, but even he was intrigued.

winter-pot.jpgsnow clogged winter pot

snow-bound.jpgburied boxwood

Milo.jpgMilo, unfazed.

Let It Snow

Snow-just what is it?  Water, high in the atmosphere freezes, forming very small ice crystals.  These ice crystals, in the form of individual snowflakes, fall to earth, blanketing your garden and mine with a white granular substance we call snow.  Frozen rain, if you will.  Ordinarily, I am not a big fan of the snow.  It is cold.  It is difficult to walk and drive through.  Worst of all, it is a sure sign that the growing season has come to a close.  Once the garden goes to sleep, the snow usually comes, and covers all until the weather turns.

Snow can be just the thing-for people who sled or ski.  My appreciation is a little less visceral.  I love the white of it.  Snow makes such a stark and crisp contrast to our relentlessly gray winter skies.  Even the softest light will make it sparkle.  Fresh heavy snow is visually dramatic in form, texture, and mass.

 Snow falling on a windless day emphasizes the shape and configuration of everything it touches.  Flat surfaces build up snow collars.  A chain link fence catches the snow in a way that beautifully describes its texture.  A perennial garden cut back to the ground gets a softly undulating and sleepy shape.  The snow will detail every vertical blade of ornamental grass left standing.

 In my zone, a winter blanket of snow protects many plants from dessicating winds.  Though it is hard to believe that ice crystals could offer any protection, a blanket of snow insulates.  The frozen ground will stay frozen.  Ground that freezes and thaws can heave plants out of the ground.  Insulation is a preventative against all kinds of loss.  Heat loss from the roof or the hot water pipes.  My down jacket-insulation against the cold.  The snow keeps everything uniformly cold. 

 A winter with no snow cover worries me.  I like all of my plants buried in snow.  Comforted and protected-this they need.  The winter temperatures and winds can kill.  As much as I treasure what nature provides, winter can be a formidable enemy to living things without protection.

As for the snow falling today-I welcome it.  Our summer was very hot, and very dry.  In the back of my mind, a worry about the lack of water.  Snow is water in an alternative form.  As every living plant depends on water to survive, I welcome this version.  Once the ground thaws, a bit of that water delivered via snow will be absorbed into the ground.

Last winter was an anomaly.  Warm temperatures throughout-no snow.  This weather deprived me of plenty.  No flowers on the magnolia trees.  Poor bloom on the roses.  Garden disappointment-I hope to not have this next spring.  Today’s heavy snow comforts me.  It is so beautiful.  It is so expected. 

My good friend MK writes me today that the snow is uplifting his spirits.  Discussion not needed- I understand his feeling.  The snow feels right.   Basic to the psyche of any gardener is instinct to protect.  The snow blanket is an essential part of the natural order of things.

Bring on the snow!  I am enchanted as much by its beauty as I am by its utility.  Though I will never enjoy it to the extent that Milo does, I appreciate this particular season for what it is. Quiet, and beautiful.

At A Glance: Still Snow Struck