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Winter weather's effect on plants

The question on gardeners minds this winter is: what effect is this bizarre winter weather going to have on our trees, shrubs, perennial flowers and lawns? Ive lost my crystal ball again, and thats what Id have to use in order to answer that question! There really is no way to answer that question accurately, were just going to have to wait and see what happens once spring arrives and the plants push out new growth. Roller coaster temperatures As pleasant as mild temperatures are to us humans, they really are not much of a blessing to our plants. Its not just a spell of extended mild temperatures but the combination of those temperatures followed by a very rapid cold snap down to the single digits that is hard. These temperature fluctuations are often what cause the greatest winter injury to our plants. Outdoor plants survive our cold winters by going dormant, and staying dormant until spring arrives. Extended thaws send confusing signals to plants. The ones that began to come out of dormancy are the ones most likely to be injured when temperatures drop quickly. Ive learned to not try to make predictions about the weather and winter injury. Many years Im amazed by how well plants survive, other years Im surprised by the amount of winter injury. You cant stop the temperatures from fluctuating so all you really can do now is wait and see what happens. Plan ahead You can make some notes for any future plantings. Matching the right plant to the site really makes a difference, especially with factors such as winter hardiness. Temperatures fluctuate the most on the southern, sunny sides of your house. This is the worst place to plant less hardy plants such as rhododendron, Japanese yew, hybrid tea roses and so on. The sunny winter days warm this area up more than other parts of your yard but when the sun sets the temperatures drop quickly. Rhododendrons dont like sunny sites anyway, so spend some time this winter reading up on plants you want to add to your landscape to learn which growing conditions they prefer. The closer you can meet their preferred conditions the better the plants will grow and the more resilient theyll be during times of stress like this. Amy Ivy is executive director with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. Office phone numbers: Clinton County 561-7450, Essex County 962-4810, Franklin County 483-7403. Visit http://ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or email questions to askMG@cornell.edu

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