The Michigan-Chicago tundra – 2 cold, 2 long?

Some of us have had >100" of snow this winter.  Was this a "good thing" for your plants?

While the sun’s rays are getting more intense and the days seem “longer,” after one more weekend of single-digit night temps and days below the freezing mark I’m getting antsy.

Is there such a thing as too much cold, for too long?  Well, I suppose so – but for most plants this has been a VG (very good) winter.

In Michigan, experts say that frost typically reaches 20 inches into the soil in the lower peninsula – make that 30 inches in a hard winter.  This winter – frost has crept down up to 4 feet deep.  But that’s mostly in uncovered areas like roadbeds.  (Which is what will bring up a big crop of potholes.)

In our yards and gardens, frost is only about 6 inches into the soil.  Surprised?  The heavy snow cover has insulated our yard and gardens since about the second week of December.

Insulated is a good word, when it comes to gardening.  And six inches of frost is about right.

Snow cover is well-known to protect plant roots from freeze-thaw cycles, and it keeps bulbs from being heaved up out of the ground.  It can prevent windburn and sun desiccation on evergreen groundcovers.

Snow also slightly raises the relative humidity around plants, which can make the difference between them drying out in the harsh winds we’ve had.

We also benefited from this epic winter because we didn’t have a February thaw – oh sure, there were about 36 hours there in the 40s.  The plants never broke dormancy, only to be threatened by a polar vortex.  (Anyone else never heard of polar vortex until this year?)

Many parts of Michigan, including Detroit and Grand Rapids, experienced near-record snowfall.  Over 110 inches in Grand Rapids.

The Great Lakes achieved 92 percent ice cover, the second-most in history.  Lake Michigan, which has significant impact on the west side of the state, was at 93 percent.  Our Great Lakes and inland lakes will be higher and the aquifers will be refilled.

And all of that together, means most of our plants will come through this winter in VG condition.  I’ve heard of some peaches and a few types of grapes, that are more cold sensitive, where winter damage is suspected.

But by and large, the epic winter has been easy on our landscape plants.  Frost in the ground and a later spring will also avoid too-early emergence of buds.

So relax about the plants, buy some mosquito repellent and get in shape.  Weeding season is just around the corner!

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