The January Thaw

– Posted in: Weather, What's up/blooming

The January thaw is an accepted part of weather lore around here–thaw being a relative term–meaning warmer than you would expect but not necessarily warm enough to melt all the snow. But this year almost all the snow did melt, save the piles that accumulate from removing it from the walk, driveway, and road. As a matter of fact, it was 58°F(14°C) on Sunday as I glanced at my phone and read “Winter Storm Watch in effect for Monday.” What? It’s gorgeous out! But–it is January, after all.

After several days of unseasonably mild weather, it’s easy to be seduced into thinking it will go on like that forever, so it was actually good to have that heads up. I made sure I took a walk in that lovely sunshine, and I also made sure to note the garden’s progress. The Christmas rose that was in bud in my previous post did indeed open up and bloom.

'Thanksgiving Bloom' blooming in January.

‘Thanksgiving Bloom’ blooming in January.

Not only that, but more hellebores were getting ready to bloom as well.
Pink Frost hellebore in bud

The pink buds of HGC hellebore ‘Pink Frost’ assure me that spring is waiting in the wings.

That reminded me that there used to be a different hellebore where ‘Pink Frost’ now grows. I moved Helleborus x sahinii ‘Winterbells’ to the foot of the lilac growing near the back deck. This is my most bloomingest hellebore of all (and the early-blooming Christmas rose is one of its parents).
Helleborus x sahinii 'Winterbells'

Helleborus x sahinii ‘Winterbells’

There’s only one problem: for me, it flops.
Helleborus x sahinii 'Winterbells'

This hellebore grows taller than most of my others, but its stems aren’t strong enough to withstand the weight of snow.

So even though it blooms all winter under the snow, when the snow finally melts, it’s prostrate on the ground with its flowers in the mud. I had moved it to the base of the lilac, because that bed is sloped and I thought there was a better chance of the blossoms staying off the ground. As you saw, I was able to get a picture by putting the camera at ground level and angling it up. Perhaps I should consider some sort of support? I doubt I will get rid of it unless I can find another hellebore that blooms all year long.

My very earliest snowdrops (I knew exactly where to look) were also emerging.

first snowdrops emerging

These are ‘S. Arnott’ emerging in the shelter of the Japanese maple, easily viewed from the kitchen door.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ is an early blooming variety, but I also planted it in a warm microclimate. Details like that can make the difference–a difference of perhaps a week earlier bloom. Which, when you’re in the throes of cabin fever, can make a very big difference.

That was then, this is now

weeds in snow

Of course, all those blooms and potential blooms are buried now.

lilac and conifer in snow

First freezing rain to encase the lilac stems, then heavy, wet snow to adorn the conifer.

Oddly enough, the snow is reassuring, mostly because it’s expected. As much as I enjoy a long, mild spring, there is a sense that if you deviate too much from the norm, bad things will happen. What if this really were the beginning of spring? Would that mean we were in for a hot summer? Or even worse, a dry summer? With the return of snow, that anxiety has been alleviated.

But it won’t bother me at all to be done with snow and cold by March. Nope, not at all.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

What differentiates a bulb from a perennial plant is that the nourishment for the flower is stored within the bulb itself.…There is something miraculous about the way that a little grenade of dried up tissue can explode into a complete flower.

~Monty Don in The Complete Gardener pp. 142

Comments on this entry are closed.

Layanee January 26, 2017, 12:10 pm

Thawing here as well Kathy and that means mud! Raining right now and dreary. Please let us have sunshine even if it gets cold.

Oksana Klueva January 25, 2017, 9:39 am

Thanks for the great pictures. I would be interested to hear more about microclimate and how to use it. And speaking of thaw we had +18C last Saturday in west PA.

Kathy Purdy January 25, 2017, 10:19 am

Oksana, thank you for the suggestion. While you are waiting for another post on microclimate, I suggest you look at Choose locations to plant bulbs now, which I wrote quite a while ago. It advises you to notice where the snow melts first, so you can plant bulbs there. “Where the snow melts first” is a microclimate. Where to plant bulbs? is a newer post of mine that shows my thinking through where to plant bulbs in my new (now 5 years old) garden. Pennsylvania is almost always warmer than where I am. I hope you were able to be outside enjoying those lovely temps.

Joanne Toft January 24, 2017, 3:39 pm

We also have had a thaw but not as warm as you. There is still lots of snow with temps hovering around 32. It does make me want to plant more early bulbs next fall. I have not ventured into growing hellebores due to cost but maybe my back garden could use one or to. Planning for next year! Thanks for the photos.