All that snow might force gardeners to wait a little longer to get growing

Written By BY HANNAH LUTZ Posted: 03/16/2014, 06:04am

After a winter of white, Illinois gardeners may have to wait awhile to see green again.

More than 60 inches of snow has fallen in Chicago so far this winter — about 25 inches above average — which makes this winter the third-snowiest in Chicago history, according to the National Weather Service.

When all that melts, it could lead to a soggy mess. That moisture could prolong the drying process necessary to begin spring planting, Loyola University Chicago Urban Agriculture Coordinator Kevin Erickson said.

Mulch, typically a tool for healthy growing, may lock in too much moisture as well. Erickson recommended raking it away to dry out soil more quickly after the snow melts and mulch thaws.

“For the beginning of the season, I would advise using row covers. … It allows sunlight to enter while providing warmth,” Erickson added.

Despite a harsh winter with lows of minus 17 and 22 days of subzero temperatures, most plants should survive.

All that snow has insulated perennials from the bitter cold and prevented the cold air from breaking through, said Tim Johnson, director of Chicago Botanic Gardens Director of Horticulture.

Evergreens trees and shrubs — which are often too tall be buried under the snow — may face the greatest threat, Morton Arboretum Plant Clinic Manager Sharon Yiesla said.

Evergreens are more susceptible to drying, and the combination of wind and low temperatures has worked together to dry needles and leaves. Yiesla also advised cleaning branches of heavy snow to avoid breakage.

The extreme cold also might have caused frost cracks — vertical fractures — in thin-barked trees such as maples, lindens and fruit trees.

“But if the tree is healthy, that crack will often heal around the edges,” Yiesla said.

Flowering trees, like magnolias, may face their biggest challenge in the coming months of fickle spring temperatures. “It’s not always the cold of winter that the problem. … It’s the fluctuating temperatures when the buds try to open,” Yiesla said.

Until the mercury starts to climb, Johnson said, one of the best things gardeners can do is to avoid using damaging salt near plants, Johnson said.

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