Even in a cold, snowy climate, there are often thaws, periods where it warms up (that means, above freezing), the sun shines, and you may even lose snow cover. In my case, while Oklahoma was getting buried under a record snowfall, it was raining here, and then, on this past Sunday, the sun came out. The pull of the moderate weather was irresistible, and I went out to see what I could see. I learned a few things, too.
My first stop was the vegetable garden. You would think everything would be dead by now, but you would be wrong.We had harvested dinosaur kale and broccoli into the first week of December, when the weather finally got pretty cold. Most of the broccoli was dead, but not all. The deer had been harvesting every bit of green off the stalks. And they had done the same with the kale. Until we saw this damage, we didn’t even realize that deer had visited the vegetable garden. The ground must have been frozen when they came, because we didn’t see any tracks.
Deer vs. Rabbit Damage
How did I know it was deer damage, and not rabbit damage? The biggest clue was the way the ends of stalks were shredded, not cleanly cut. Rabbits use their front teeth like scissors to cut something off and then chew it. Deer bite and pull at the same time, leaving shredded ends of fibrous material. Also, the tops of these stalks were pretty high for a rabbit to get at. And I’m pretty sure I saw deer poop in the area. We haven’t seen damage on our woody plants–yet.
OrnamentalsIn more southern climates snapdragons are a winter annual, grown in a similar fashion to pansies. I believe this snapdragon sprouted in late summer from seed scattered by plants I neglected to deadhead. It’s trying its darndest to be a self respecting winter annual, but it’s got a tough job ahead of it. I don’t try wintering over pansies, either, but I wonder what would happen if I direct sowed the seed in late fall. Would they get an earlier start in spring? We grew several kinds of annual poppies in the vegetable garden this year, and these are self-sown seedlings. In a warmer climate, they would definitely bloom next spring. Around here, a lot depends on the reliability of snow cover in winter and the severity of freeze-thaw cycles during mud season. Cyclamen purpurascens keeps its leaves throughout the winter, though by early spring they are in pretty bad shape, in my experience. This was the first cyclamen I tried because Seneca Hill Perennials suggested that C. purpurascens was the hardiest cyclamen species. It has been growing slowly but steadily in my garden since 2005. I just might give Cyclamen coum or Cyclamen hederfolium a try next. Quite a few of my colchicum species and cultivars poke their leaves up in the fall or early winter, and remain that way until the soil thaws and warms up in spring. It’s possible they all do it; I didn’t think to systematically check when I was out this past Sunday. It makes me wonder if they would completely emerge quite a bit sooner in their native habitat. The tips of the leaves look pretty horrible by winter’s end, but the rest of the foliage emerges just fine and the plants don’t seem to be the least set back by it. I find it vexing. They would look so much nicer in the spring if they would just stay below ground for the winter. It never vexes me to see snowdrop foliage, even though I know they won’t bloom until March. Out of my huge patches I only found this one clump poking through the earth. I have concluded that these passalong snowdrops are Galanthus nivalis, which is smaller and later blooming than G. elwesii, which I also have. Why do these snowdrops emerge first? I believe the water table is very high here, and keeps the soil warmer from below than would usually be the case.
Take Your Own Winter Thaw Walk
You never know what you’ll learn when you go out on a winter walk. I guarantee you this: it’s never as dead out there as it first appears. And the sunshine will do you good! What have you other cold climate gardeners discovered?