Warm winter effects on plants hard to predict

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 22, 2002

It’s been a warm and dry winter.

Friday, February 22, 2002

It’s been a warm and dry winter. Snow cover has been minimal, and temperatures have been mild. Is that good or bad for the trees in our yards? Are those trees budding out too early? Should we be worrying about our plants, or is everything okay?

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The answer depends on whether we have been taking care of our trees, shrubs and other perennials the rest of the year, say experts.

Brad Wedge at Wedge Nursery in Albert Lea personally isn’t too worried. But he doesn’t typically spend a lot of time worrying about plants whatever kind of winter it is.

&uot;I hardly ever think about it because there’s nothing I can do,&uot; said Wedge. Aside from covering a few smaller plants, he mostly leaves things alone during the winter.

One thing he doesn’t worry about at all are the buds we see on trees this time of year. For one thing, the buds actually formed last summer, we often just don’t notice them until this time of year, Wedge said. And for another, unless they’re flower buds, they’re still well protected from any sudden drops in temperature. The trees themselves aren’t in any danger.

This winter the weather was mild, but temperatures still stayed below freezing enough to keep plants dormant, said Wedge. And there was just enough cover that whatever was in the ground will be okay, he thinks.

It’s also hard to predict what will happen to any plant over the winter, he added, so some trees or shrubs in some locations may not do as well as others. And overall survival rates will depend on what the rest of the winter brings, according to Kendall Langseth at the extension service.

&uot;What’s going to happen depends on what happens the rest of the winter. We’re going to have to wait and see what the rest of the year brings,&uot; said Langseth. According to information he has, potential problems are still potential at this point: they may or may not show up.

The main influence on a plant’s ability to survive any harsh weather – from extreme cold to drought – is how well it is tended the rest of the year. Both Wedge and Deb Brown, the extension’s horticulture expert at the University of Minnesota, say that if the plants in question are provided adequate water and nutrients, especially in the fall and during dry spells, and if they were properly mulched, even a harsh winter will present few problems.

Trees have been here a long time and do just fine when people aren’t around, said Wedge. It will take more than a few months of unusual weather to cause significant harm.