The Big Thaw

It’s not uncommon to have a ‘January Thaw’ where snow and ice melts down only to have more snow and ice again in February.  Well so far this February we’re still in the January thaw mode and plants and critters are waking up.

At least in central Wyoming, the ground is without frost.  I say this as I’m seeing night crawler activity in my yard. Night crawlers are worms that come up to the surface of the soil at night to feed on dead vegetation and to mate.  They leave behind them in the morning a mound of soil that they’ve pushed up the night before.  The fact is these worms don’t tunnel through frozen ground.

I’m also seeing the start of new growth with lawn grasses, iris and daffodils to name a few.  This waking up doesn’t really bother me as these plants are very cold tolerant should the temperatures plummet.  What is surprising to me is that they are waking up a good twenty to thirty days earlier or so as to when we should see this activity.

With the ground unfrozen and above seasonal temperatures continuing expect to see an early flush of weeds emerging. Weeds like kochia and mustards will be some of the earliest weeds to start the season.  To get a handle on these early season weeds apply a pre-emergent herbicide with the active ingredient Trifluralin now.  This herbicide kills germinating seeds but leaves existing vegetation unharmed.  This product is available at most garden centers.

For those gardeners wanting to use non-chemical methods, consider the Christmas method of weed control—hoe, hoe, hoe. This is an extremely effective method if done when the weeds are just a small carpet and their root systems are immature.

As for now what could be devastating are trees and shrubs breaking dormancy.  So far I haven’t seen them waking up.  That said, most gardeners are getting outside and are inspecting their landscapes.  Often times gardeners get in panic mode this time of year when they see their tree’s buds round and fleshy.  They’re thinking the trees have broken dormancy and will begin leafing out.  The fact of the matter is trees developed their fleshy buds last autumn, they are supposed to be round and fleshy now.

What has me most concerned is the huge dieback our evergreens experienced back in early November when temperatures fell eighty or more degrees in a span of seventy two hours.  The trees then were preparing for winter temperatures by reducing the amount of water being stored in their needles.  The problem was they were in the process but they still had too much water in their needles.  And as you all know when water freezes it expands.  In this case the water in the cells burst the cell walls causing something akin to hemorrhaging in humans.

As temperatures warm the browning of these evergreens has become more pronounced.  For many pines and junipers I fear we have lost them but we won’t know till at least May.

Lastly, if you have new plantings of trees or shrubs or perennial flowers it’s best to give them a good irrigation now especially if your soils are dry.  What I don’t want to see is desiccation to their root systems.

As much as I hate to say this we need cooler not warmer temperatures now.

Originally published in the Casper Star-Tribune, February 15, 2015