by Connie Oswald Stofko
We’ve been enjoying weather in the 50s, and it might go up to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the next few days. What does this mean for our gardens in Western New York?
First, if the snow in your yard has melted, you’re probably seeing spring bulbs such as daffodils and hyacinths sprouting. That’s usual for this time of year, said John Farfaglia, extension educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Niagara County. If you didn’t see those sprouts, that would be bad.
“It’s not unusual to see some life in bulbs and even some perennials,” Farfaglia said. “It doesn’t worry me.”
Deer and rabbits
The big concern is for fruit trees, and even those we don’t have to worry about– yet, he said. The concern is that the warm weather will advance the trees, causing them to blossom too early, leaving them vulnerable to a frost. The frost can kill the buds, preventing fruit from forming. He noted that the the last frost in Lockport is usually May 10, but for the last three or four years, the last frost came about 10 days later than that.
But it takes more than one period of warm weather to get the trees to advance too quickly, he said. We would need several periods where the temperatures are 15 to 20 degrees above average. Even if we get a day or two of 80-degree weather in March, the trees would be okay. It’s the cumulative effect, the recurring periods of warm temperatures, that can cause problems.
In addition, it’s the 24-hour average temperatures that are important. If the daytime temperatures are in the 50s, but it goes down to freezing at night, the trees are fine. But if the temperatures are in the 50s day and night, that would be significant. So we don’t have to worry yet.
Recurring periods of warm temperatures could affect ornamental plants, too, but it’s not as worrisome simply because we don’t have the same investment in those plants. If we get a few less flowers, it’s not the end of the world, he said, but if a farmer loses 70 percent of his peach crop, it’s a big deal.
While the Southtowns and the Southern Tier have gotten some heavy snow, the Northtowns and Niagara County haven’t. The snow can act as good insulation, protecting the roots of perennials against cold temperatures, he said. However, it hasn’t been an issue this winter because we haven’t gotten much really cold weather.
Since we’re going to have some mild weather for the next several days, what can we do outside? There are some things you can do and some things you should avoid.
You can go out and get those leaves that you missed in the fall, Farfaglia said, but he cautioned against doing it if the ground is wet or muddy. Walking on a wet area can compact the soil.
You can rake matted grass, too.
“At the very least, it makes things look better,” Farfaglia said. “You’re outside, getting some fresh air and exercise. And it may help the lawn.”
While you’re out there, pick up sticks and garbage that have blown around.
Now is the time to prune may trees and shrubs, but don’t prune any that bloom before mid-June, such as lilacs, forsythia or spirea, he said. If you do, you’ll cut off the part that flowers. Instead, prune those spring bloomers after they flower.
You can prune fruit trees now. Yes, you will cut off some of the parts that produce blossoms and fruit, but it’s important to get the maximum amount of light into the canopy.
Grapes can be pruned now to keep them from getting overgrown.
If you want to shape up evergreens such as yews, junipers and arborvitae, Farfaglia suggests waiting until the new growth appears, which will happen from the later weeks of June until the Fourth of July.
Push plants back in the ground
You may have plants whose roots have pushed out of the ground. These include overwintering crops, such as garlic, and recently planted perennials. Heuchera or coral bells tend to push out, Farfaglia said. Take a tour of your yard and see if you have any plants that have pushed out of the ground. If so, gently push them back in, then add a little extra mulch, such as shredded bark, around them.
Pull some weeds
“It never hurts,” Farfaglia said.
If there are any obvious weeds, yank them out. Just be careful not to walk around in your garden if it’s wet. Again, you don’t want to compact the soil.
Clean your garage or shed
Here’s my suggestion: If your pots and tools are disorganized, now is a good time to straighten things up. You don’t want to do this when it’s freezing out, and when the weather really warms up, you’ll want to be in the sun, so do this now. (I hope I can take my own advice!)
Farfaglia adds this tip: Get your tools sharpened, and if you don’t have the proper tools, get some now so you’ll be ready for spring.