Here’s what 2021’s rough weather might mean for this year’s garden

By Bonnie Orr
WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener
February 24, 2022

Bonnie Orr
Bonnie Orr – WSU Chelan/Douglas County Master Gardener – photo by Don Seabrook, Wenatchee World

Spring officially arrives in a few weeks, signaling the start of the gardening season — at least a start on the gardening tasks.

Before we can plan for the new gardening year, let’s recap last year’s gardening challenges. Here are my notes from my gardening journal.

A very dry 2021 winter.
Windy nearly every day from mid-April to mid-August.
Cool spring temperatures. My garden soil did not reach 70 degrees, the optimum for planting vegetable seeds, until May 26.
The heat arrived in mid-June, and two weeks later we experienced record-setting heat for nearly a week.
The tomatoes finally set and ripened by the end of August.
October was very warm and very dry.
November was warm with precipitation, and Dec. 1 was 70 degrees.
A white Christmas and then a week of single-digit cold nights. We recorded 5.75 inches of precipitation for the entire year!
Jan. 6: 26 inches of snow that sublimated and didn’t start to melt for nearly a month.
What a year! What does this all mean?

Paying attention to soil temperatures this spring will enable a gardener not to have to re-plant and re-plant. Cold soil not only rots seeds but also stunts the roots of transplanted plants. Who knows if we will have extreme heat, nevertheless we nearly always have a hot summer with high temperatures hovering in the high 90s to low 100s.

Mulch. Magic mulch. Last summer, I was able to keep my vegetable garden healthy because I had applied 4 inches of grass clippings and dried-leaves mulch at the beginning of June, and then applied more every few weeks after that as the mulch broke down. Mulch suppresses weeds and, more importantly, keeps the roots cool and slows soil water evaporation. I also apply fall mulch to my flowerbeds, and it has the same benefits of protecting roots.

Luckily, before the cold at the end of December arrived, 6 inches of snow fell. I made soil probes under the snow on the third day of the cold. In areas where there was no mulch, the soil was frozen to a depth of 3 inches; the mulched soil was frozen to ½-inch depth.

Then the big snow dump happened. The soil under the turf grasses was not shallowly frozen. The grasses continued to grow under the snow since light travels through the snow. Several lawn problems are possible this spring. If fertilizer was applied in the fall, there is a greater chance of snow mold developing when the grasses start to grow later this month. If huge piles of snow were heaped on the lawn in order to clear sidewalks and driveways, compaction of the soil might be a result and could affect the health of the turf roots.

I wrote about lawn care last month, and this is just a reminder that if the lawn has more than an inch or so of thatch, your irrigation will not be as effective, and the lawn will suffer from the summer’s heat. It might be time to have the lawn thatched.

During the heat at the end of June, many trees and shrubs suffered dehydrated leaves, especially on the south and west side of the plants and where plants were growing near rock mulches or near black asphalt.

Many of the conifers still have brown needles, but before you start pruning off dead branches, make a slight spit into the bark to see if the cambium layer, the layer under the bark, is still green. If it is, most likely the tree will regrow needles. Currently, I have been observing deciduous trees and shrubs and noticing that the small branches are beginning to glow red or orange, which means they will most likely grow new leaves later this spring.

If good gardening practice begins this spring, fewer garden problems will develop no matter what Mother Nature plans.

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