How to deal with warm-then-cold winter weather

snowless garden and snowy garden
Photos by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

We got snow in November, then it melted. In late December, the weather was surprisingly warm, with air temperatures reaching the high 50s. The grass looked so green! Then the temperatures hit lows in the teens. This past weekend we got socked with snow.

One thing you can say for weather in Western New York– it’s not boring.

Here are some things you can do to deal with these changes in winter weather.

Protect your plants & check for heaving roots

Last week when there was no snow on the ground, I noticed that some of the iris bulbs I had planted a few months ago were on top of the soil with the roots barely inserted into the soil.

Perhaps I hadn’t planted them deeply enough. Rain may have washed soil away. Or maybe the freezing and thawing of the soil pushed the bulbs out of the ground.

Whatever the cause, I needed to get the bulbs back into the soil.

I was able to dig into the unfrozen soil a bit to get the roots where they needed to be. Then I added more soil on top of the bulbs. I’ll keep checking on them.

This heaving out of the ground can happen with perennials, too. If you notice that your perennials have heaved out of the ground, push the roots down with your foot.

To prevent your plants from heaving, mulch around them. You can mulch with autumn leaves, if you saved some of those. Branches from discarded Christmas trees work well, too, if you happen to still have one. See more in this article, which also gives a good explanation of why big swings in air temperature aren’t good for your garden, but why snow cover helps.

And another article gives good tips on things to do in autumn to protect your plants.

What to do in your garden now

Here are some tasks you could do in your garden now, even with snow on the ground:

  • If you have broken branches from the wind, you may need to prune your trees. Get some basic information on pruning here.
  • Keep adding to your compost pile or compost bin. If you don’t already compost, start now. See lots of articles on composting here.
  • Did you place sticks in your garden bed to keep rabbits out? Check to see if the sticks have fallen over. Reinsert any that are horizontal. (I don’t know if the sticks in my garden bed were pushed out by freezing and thawing of the soil or if the rabbits knocked them over. I know rabbits have been around because the garlic I planted earliest has foliage, and that foliage got chomped. Aargh!)

Help report the weather

When it comes to lake effect snow, we all know that some areas can get dumped on, while just a few miles away the snow is light.

That’s because bands of lake effect snow can be very narrow. That makes it difficult for meterologists to forecast who will get the heavy snow and who will get the light snow.

You can help!

Volunteer to make weather observations to help better predict lake effect weather. See more here.

4 Comments on “How to deal with warm-then-cold winter weather

  1. Hi! Long ago, I learned that rabbits will eat tulips, but not daffodils because daffodils are in the garlic family. After reading that your garlic leaves were chomped by rabbits, I was confused. I did a little digging (not literally!) and read “Rabbits generally know better than to eat garlic or onions, which can trigger severe anaphylactic reactions, and even deer seem to find these powerfully potent plants less than appealing”. I am wondering if you have another type of animal that finds garlic pleasing to their pallets!

  2. I’ve notice last week, when we had those warm days, that my daffodils are coming up all over my property. I did put some more mulch on some of them but not all. I hope they make it till spring.

  3. Ellen, I have to admit that when anything goes wrong in my yard, I immediately blame the rabbits. It’s possible that squirrels chewed on the garlic foliage. There were rats in the neighborhood last year, but I haven’t heard of any sightings in months. (We’ve lived in this neighborhood for more than 25 years, and we never had deer. Then three nights ago I saw one! There weren’t any deer tracks in my backyard.) So it could be squirrels that sampled the garlic foliage. I will say this about the rabbits, though. They aren’t so repelled by garlic that they will stay out of my garlic patch. They like to build their nest there in late spring.

  4. Eva, don’t worry if your daffodil bulbs are sending up shoots now. That’s what they are supposed to do. The green stems will be fine, even if the weather gets cold.

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