Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Cold Hard Facts

If you’re an avid gardener, you’ll know that a good layer of snow serves as an excellent source of insulation for your plants.

Deep snow, which I would classify us as currently having, can maintain soil temps high enough to sustain microbial activities and mineralization processes through-out the winter.

It seems as though our beloved plants do a better job of getting ready for the brutal temps of winter than most of us humans do.  Plants get ready for winter by undergoing a process called acclimation or hardening. Hardening is triggered by various environmental cues like the day length, cooling temperatures in the fall and in some cases moisture availability. Unless we’ve experienced arctic temps in the early stages of acclimation, which I don’t think we did, you can be confident that your plants have done their part in preparing for the type of winter we are experiencing right now.

But John, what about the arctic wind chills we have been experiencing?  Since plants do not generate their own heat, wind chill does not affect them (I really wish I was a plant right now). But cold and dry winter winds can damage plants by drying them out. This is particularly a problem for evergreens that have leaves exposed to the wind during the winter.

Plants are generally able to withstand these colder temperatures by regulating the water content inside and around the plant’s cells. The water around the plant’s cells is usually the first water to freeze because the water inside the plant’s cells has various salts and other compounds dissolved in the liquid component of the cells. But, once the water around the cells freezes and forms ice crystals it can damage surrounding cells and draw out some of the water inside the cells which can lead to larger ice crystal formation and damage to the cells themselves. The various processes that plants use to withstand sub-freezing temperatures are quite complex and can vary dramatically from one species of plant to another.

In summary, all scientific data that I have read indicates that majority of our plants will pull through this brutal winter.  Of course this means if they are cold hardy (Zone 4 or lower).  I say 4 or lower because it seems debatable whether our region is Zone 5 or not.  Don’t be too surprised if you lose a couple plants that are zone 5, but then again I’m sure you’ve lost some zone 5 plants in much milder winters as well.  On a side note, let this winter be a reminder of why overwintering plants properly is crucial.  Read more about the process of over-wintering as well as other 'need-to-know' plant care info at:

Personally, I think how this snow melts come springtime will have more of an effect on the survival of our plants than this winter will.  A gradual melting would be ideal.  If it all melts at once, similar to how it did a couple of years ago, plant roots will rot out  In essence they’ll drown to death.

So sit back, relax and enjoy the cozy warmth of your home.  Dream of the upcoming spring that is right around the corner.  At this point, I think your plants will be alright and there isn’t a whole lot of need to worry.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Spring is only a month away!

Well here we are.  January 8, 2014.  2 degrees.  Yes I know.  It feels like we live in Antarctica lately and spring seems to be nowhere in sight.  But believe it or not, spring will be here before we know it.  For me, the hour glass has been flipped over.  In fact, I have been busier than heck trying to get things in order for this season and almost feel like I'm running out of time!  I have been around long enough to know that the more I get prepared and organized in the off-season, the better off I'll be stress-wise going into the spring.  I've also come to the realization that the effort I put into the 'slow time' has a direct correlation to the success of our season.  So having said that- what am I so busy doing??

I could post about 10 blogs right now describing what I am working on but primarily I'm spending my time making sure that I have all my bases covered on our plant selection for this season.  I try my best to get my annual & perennial plug (baby plants for lack of a better term) orders in at the tail end of each season.  I like doing this right at the end because everything is still fresh in my mind.  Every season brings new ideas and issues and with that comes necessary adjustments that need to be made.  Plug ordering involves paging through countless catalogs (I swear I have a stack of catalogs 2 feet high) that have pictures upon pictures of beautiful plants.  Sounds easy right? Wrong. Obviously there are varieties that under perform and should be eliminated until they are genetically improved upon.  So cutting some varieties out is a no brainer.  But maybe several customers have asked for a particular plant that I didn't carry?  Or maybe I noticed that all of the red petunias sold out right away and all of the white ones were slow to move?  Maybe I'm missing out on an entire plant category?  That's not to mention that it seems like hundreds of new plant cultivars are bred each year.  As you can see, there are many scenarios that play out during the season and addressing them by placing our order for the next season as soon as I can has always worked best and has made the best sense to me.  This time of year I am reviewing all of our order acknowledgements and making any last second changes.

It's funny though.  I cannot tell you how many times I was convinced that I made an awesome decision and thought to myself: "Boy, this is going to pay off big next year...", and have been completely off.  There have been many seasons where it seems as though everyone wants a specific plant so I go ahead and load up on that particular plant with absolutely no interest the following year.  There have also been many seasons where I made an adjustment that hit a home run.  I like to think that I have a good grip on our customer's needs and wants but meeting those needs year after year is extremely challenging (if not impossible at times) so I accept that and do the absolute best I can.  But when it comes down to it, it tends to always turn out to be a guessing game.  Yes it is a stressful challenge but at the end of the day I enjoy the challenge of providing of what I feel customers will love when it comes to plant selection year after year.

One of the best things about working at Bluemel's Garden Center is that we get to experience spring before everybody else.  I have to admit, for me there's nothing more exciting than walking into the greenhouse in the middle of winter for the first time and being able to smell the earthy soil, see the green healthy plants, and feel the energizing warmth.  If you ever get a bad case of the winter blues, you're more than welcome to stop by and catch an early dose of spring.  I'd love to walk you through our greenhouses to show you what we're up to!

Well, time for me to get back to preparing for spring- after all, It's only a month away…. for us!