Aflutter over snow

More than half way through the winter of 2015-2016 and we have yet to measure a full inch of snow. This weekend’s forecast, however, has everyone’s attention from the mid-Atlantic states to New England. The first snow-producing nor’easter of the season appears headed this way. Everyone is aflutter over snow.

A bit of snow contrasts with winter browns, grays, and winterberry red.

A bit of snow contrasts with winter browns, grays, and winterberry red.

We had a taste of snow a few days ago … enough to whiten the ground, contrast against the browns and grays of dormant plantings, and give winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’) berries a brighter glow.  But, small amount of snow is not enough to give garden beds an insulating blanket from harsh temperature swings that can be so damaging to surface roots and the crowns of plants. For this we need real snow. It’s time.

Looking back at my snowfall records since the winter of 2008/2009, we usually get one decent, blanketing snowfall during January. The exception years were 2010 when our January total was 12″, accrued in little one- to three-inch snowfalls, and 2013 when the heaviest snowfalls occurred just before 2012 ended (12″ on 12/29) and later during the 2012/2013 winter (36″ over 2/8 and 2/9). Otherwise January is a snowy month, totaling 13.5″ in 2009, 54″ in 2011, 17″ in 2012, 31.75″ in 2014, and 26.5″ in 2015.

We’re due.

Winter snow, in general, is good for gardens. Besides blanketing soils from temperature swings, snow brings moisture and nutrients, and replenishes waterways as it melts. Snow cover gives a different view of gardens and landscapes, often highlighting areas where more winter interest (a conifer or small tree) would add structure or cover for overwintering birds.

Snowflakes form fascinating designs and have brief, but interesting, lives. Starting as a single droplet of water that freezes around a speck of dust, they can go through riming, become a grauple, or aggregate … all explained in this video from the National Science Foundation.

I’m aflutter over snow … anxious to experience winter as it is meant to be in my region. I feel my younger self bubbling to the surface as I watch snowflakes fall. There’s magic in the sight of each tiny work of art settling gently to the ground; how snowflakes team up to transform every surface into a sculpture-in-white.

Others are more negatively aflutter over snow … dreading the need to shovel and clear. But since we cannot stop snow, why not embrace it and see snow for the wonder it is.


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Seed dispersal with gusto

Some plants passively count on wind, creatures, or water for seed dispersal. Other plants attack seed dispersal with gusto, creating a type of seed pod firework display.

The video below shows seed dispersal with gusto, a process I’ve observed this many times in my Connecticut gardens.

Unfortunately, the video only refers to the plants by common name – violets, touch-me-nots, squirting cucumbers. Searching for information using only common plant names can lead to confusion as common names may vary from gardener to gardener and region to region. For anyone looking to add featured plants to their garden, the addition of botanical names would have been helpful.

In Connecticut, touch-me-nots are also called jewelweed. The Connecticut Botanical Society (CBS) lists two native species: jewelweed or spotted touch-me-not is Impatiens capensis, while pale touch-me-not or pale jewelweed is Impatiens pallida.

white violets

white violets-a CT native using seed dispersal with gusto

CBS also lists many species of violets, most in the Viola family such as the common blue violet (Viola sororia) and small white or northern white violet (Viola pallens). By contrast, CBS does not list poisonous-when-ingested squirting cucumbers (Ecballium elaterium), native to Mediterranean regions.

Seed dispersal with gusto is a fun phenomenon for desired plants. In my landscape, common blue violets add interest and color to the lawn, where I encourage their spread, and where they attract some of the earliest emerging pollinators. But the same blue violets require annual control in perennial beds to prevent them from taking over.

Two of Connecticut’s weedy invasives hairy bitter-cress (Cardamine hirsuta) and garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) need only a slight touch to blast mature seeds in all directions, making them formidable weed pests. Hairy bitter-cress blooms during very early spring going from flower to mature seed in just a few days, and re-blooms late-summer to fall from these broadcast seeds. If not caught before narrow seed pods dry, plant removal is impossible without spreading seeds. Garlic mustard is similarly robust in seed dispersal.

Informed gardeners can use seed dispersal knowledge to their advantage by allowing desired perennials to go to seed, or preventing unwanted weeds or perennials from doing the same.

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