It was a balmy 57F out today, a pleasant change from last week’s snow, so I took a stroll around the garden to see what I could see. I saw the new growth of sedums at soil level, and I saw colchicums emerging from the earth, way too early as usual.I also saw the damage that freezing water causes:
Water expands as it freezes
You were taught this in grade school: water expands as it freezes. You were probably even told that water gets into the cracks of rocks, and actually breaks the rock apart when it freezes. Unless you actually saw this happen, it probably seemed no more than another fairy tale that grownups told, right up there with Santa Claus.
I’m here to tell you: ice happens, and the consequences can be anything from annoying to deadly. It is annoying when the rain gauge you bought at a discount store breaks from the force of the undrained rainwater expanding as it freezes. It happened last year, too. Until I get a fancy self-emptying rain gauge, I will be buying the least expensive rain gauge I can find that measures in tenths of an inch, because I am always thinking I can wait until it gets warmer before emptying the gauge, and then I forget. The force of the expanding ice was enough to break the plastic bracket as well as crack the glass:
Heaving kills plants
When that same moisture is in the soil and then freezes, the results can be deadly for garden plants, especially newly planted ones. The water in the soil expands and pushes the plant up. When that ice melts, the soil level goes back down, leaving the plant’s roots exposed to the drying air. Cold climate gardeners call this heaving.
Heaving is more common during mud season, that transition time between winter and spring when the soil is subjected to freezing and thawing, but in a weird winter like we’ve been having, it can happen any time snow cover is lost. I was looking for heaved plants as part of my mild weather stroll, but didn’t see any. Any fall-planted perennial, tree, or shrub is at risk (we don’t plant annuals in the fall, silly), but heucheras and primroses seem vulnerable no matter how long they’ve been in the ground. The solution is to discover the plants before the roots have dried, and push them back down into the moist garden soil. Then cross your fingers.
You mild weather gardeners getting a taste of Ol’ Man Winter this year, consider yourself warned. The ice that’s in the ground is just as deadly as the cold air above the ground.