Monday, March 2, 2009

March - The Cruelest Month

"Up from the sea, the wild north wind is blowing
Under the sky's gray arch;
Smiling I watch the shaken elm boughs, knowing
It is the wind of March. "

-- William Wordsworth, Written in March

It would be hard to describe our own weather for this first week of March any better than Wordsworth, who must have written those words during a very similar storm. We are under true gale conditions, a frozen, snowy Nor'easter in full progress. Although my own very southside location here in Blackwater/Pungo did not get the snowfall, we are "dusted" with frozen rain, getting colder - even in the daytime - and I am watching the heavy rain puddles freeze as I type. Forecasters are calling for "record cold" tonight, but I'm skeptical - we've already been at 6 degrees out here and it doesn't look clear enough to drop lower than that tonight. If it does, then the snow should be welcome to those of you who have it - it will insulate your plants against the cold. Snow doesn't hurt daffodils and spring plants at all, except as a heavy weight squashing them down, and snow cover insulates plant roots against temperature variability. I would have loved a nice snowfall over my poor cabbages.

Variable is going to be the key for weather ahead - forecasts are calling for high 60's come next weekend, meaning we are well into the March weather rollercoaster that does more damage to plants than a solidly frigid winter ever does. Inspect the trunks and main stems of young apples, pears and other fruit trees to make sure the warm sun hasn't expanded the cold and frozen bark, still thin on young trees, until it splits - usually on the south side. Painting trunks with white latex paint helps, so do those ventilated tree wraps*. If you see bark splits forming, treat them by coating with dormant oil spray (horticultural oil) - even by rubbing in some vaseline. Keep an eye on the bark throughout the season - those split lines can become entry points for bark beetles and other pests.

This is another good point for a nice, thick garden mulch - it prevents freezing-and-thawing from heaving plant roots out of the ground and modifies the soil temperature.
* [I don't like leaving tree wraps on throughout the growing year. Too many beetles and other damaging pests can "hide out" under the wraps, damaging the stem unseen. In addition, certain wraps prevent air flow, encouraging dampness, mildew or rot and restrict plant growth.]

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