February 6, 2020
What an irony. I sit here writing this article as another major snowstorm is bearing down on us like a slow moving freight train. Watching the weather, it sounds like another five inches or so with moderate wind. The wind will be the key, I think. If it stays light, we won't get lot of drifting and the snow will stay where it lands. Otherwise, well, who knows? The second part of the irony is that I just checked the lavender field and it's still under nearly three feet of snow and ice. I'll just have to wait and see how it comes through the winter.
Maintenance is a task throughout the winter, though. We may get snowstorms, but we can't count on them to do our watering for us. Of course, the November storm did a real good job of it this year. It was very wet and the ground hadn't frozen yet. Now we're into February and the story is going to change somewhat. Most of the snow this month will be light with very little moisture. The heavy, wet snows come later in the spring. If we get them at all. It is Wyoming, you know. If we want to keep our plants alive we need to give them supplemental water throughout the winter. As you can see in the photo, the ground is dry around the tree, the roses and under the lawn. What you can't see is that there's a snowbank just to the north of the tree. That means that the yarrow and roses to the north of the tree are still getting watered naturally, but the tree is getting nothing. The roses and the lawn are dry, too, even though there is still plenty of snow on the ground in other places. Did I mention more than three feet on the lavender? Yeah, I guess I did.
Everything that doesn't have snow standing on it or right next to it to catch the melt needs water periodically throughout the winter. Even if the ground is frozen, water anyway. We have beautiful days like today, Sunday and 60 degrees, quite often in the winter. I just shake my head and comment that it's just a typical January, February, or March in Wyoming. Then we'll turn around and have subzero temperatures and I'll say the same thing. What that means to us, at least as far as watering goes, is that the top few inches of the soil will thaw on these nice days before refreezing at night. Since a good portion of the roots of most plants lie just under the surface of the ground, they'll be able to take in whatever water is available during the thaw cycles. Our job is to make sure the water is there at the right time.
Every spring many people will complain about winter kill in their lawns and sometimes the trees and shrubs, too. Most often than not winter kill is caused by insufficient water during the winter. Yes, it's a real pain in the you know what to drag those hoses out, water, drain them and put them away again, all in a single day, but it's worth it to have our plants alive in the spring when it's time for them to begin leafing out again.
These warm days are a good time to check your other protective measures, too. The November storm unwound the wrap from one of my trees. Warm weather with little wind is a tremendous blessing when it's necessary to fix the problems that come up periodically throughout the winter. Mulch is another item that's good to check. I use three kinds of mulch. Around the blueberries and my vining plants I use a straw mulch that actually blows Away pretty easily. I've also used it on the garlic this year. On the garlic beds, I put construction fencing over it to help hold it down. Of course it blew off immediately after I put it down, pulling up all the stakes I had in it. I ended up using concrete block to hold it down. I noticed today that one side has come loose from the block. More maintenance. The single grind mulch holds down very well. In fact, I haven't had any of it move yet this winter. If you can live with large sticks (limbs) and some other "stuff" in your mulch, this is the best way to go for large areas that you won't have time to manage or in an area that you want to look rugged and natural. Double grind mulch is the decorative mulch that's usually used in flower beds and other places that we want to highlight. That means to show off to those folks from Rio Linda. But double grind mulch will also blow away with our wind meaning that it may have to be replaced during the winter. I hope you kept a couple of bags back if you use double grind mulch. If the mulch isn't there it can't protect the plants. In some cases you may be able to put something such as bird netting or some other kind of net over the double grind to hold it. In all of your mulch, check it for "critters" that may have burrowed into it. They could be eating the roots and bark from the plant it's supposed to be protecting.
Don't forget the grass. Your lawn. It needs water, too, during the winter. Most people plant water thirsty grasses in their lawns rather than native grasses. Non-native grasses may look good, but they aren't suitable for us and take a lot of care. They'll have a greater need for winter watering as well as a greater tendency to die off without water. Native grasses, such as buffalo grass, will survive the winter without additional water, surviving with only the water God gives us. If you are putting in a new lawn this spring, I would strongly suggest considering native grasses. When you water, just leave it at water. It's not time for fertilizer yet. That won't come for another few months. Late April to early May is a good time to fertilize your grass. While you're at it, plan to keep the dandelions. They're usually the first food the pollinators will get in the spring. So fertilizers with weed killer are out of the question. Embrace the nativeness and welcome the dandelions. Just think, the kids can blow on the seed heads and make a wish as all the new seed goes floating off into the wind.
Take care of your plants over the winter and they'll give you a great show and many hours of pleasure over the spring and summer. If you have any questions, ask a Master Gardener. It's what we do.