Our gardens have for the most part experienced spring-like weather through mid-February. Yet spring is still almost five weeks away! Warmer than usual temperatures and lack of winter precipitation are posing real issues for our landscape.
First the warm temperature problem. Some perennial plants are already showing signs of bud break, in other words, breaking dormancy. This could pose a real problem for our fruit-growing industry as well as our very own trees, scrubs and woody perennials, especially those on the south side of our houses where radiant heat really exposes plants to excessive heat load for this time of year.
There is not much you can do about this temperature effect on breaking dormancy, only to pray for future favorable, more normal weather patterns.
Another issue with our warmer temperatures is that bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and crocuses will bloom early. A freeze could put an end to this early bloom. But all that is lost are the flowers, your plants will survive to bloom another year- -- just not this year.
Still another side effect of warmer temperatures is that plants, especially evergreens, will be transpiring more and using water at a faster than normal rate. This along with our lack of snow can lead to winter desiccation problems. Symptoms of winter desiccation usually do not become apparent until the spring or even early summer.
If you look at the precipitation records table I have included, our moisture prospects are not very good. I would recommend watering at least once, maybe twice this winter, February and again in March. I am already watering all my landscape, even my dormant lawn.
Another caveat is that trees in real rocky soil will have their roots in areas with less soil water holding capacity. This is where drought stress will often appear first.
Stressed plants also are much more susceptible to attack from insect pests, especially wood boring beetles. In fact, stressed trees give off a chemical that actually attracts boring beetles, even before you know they are stressed. My best advice? Remove the stress and avoid the need for later insecticide applications.
And not to heap bad news upon bad news but mild winters allow more insects to survive, often leading to more pest problems during the growing season. But never fear, predicting weather or insect problems is a fool's errand. And apparently I have fallen into that trap. Until next time, pray for snow, or at least rain, and start watering your landscape when the temperature is above freezing.
Jim Leser retired to Cedaredge in 2007 after a career with Texas A&M University Extension in entomology. He is a member of the Cedaredge Tree Board and a Colorado Master Gardener.