In the Garden:
January, 2012
Regional Report

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Harvesting over-sized scallions -- an unseasonal New Year's gardening project!

Cherry Blossoms at Christmas?

For years, I've told gardeners to winter prune roses in February when the forsythia bloom. That's wisdom gleaned from a rosarian who spoke to us as undergraduates studying garden design.

In mid-December, a yellow puff of branches caught my eye. Forsythia was flowering full and bright on a sunny corner in northwest Philadelphia. About two miles south, more golden forsythia spilled into the street from a yard's edge.

Oops. One garden tip that's no longer unequivocal. We're experiencing a time when not all of nature's laws we've depended on remain dependable. I'm not tackling the complexity and controversy of climate change here. Experts debate that hourly as data, perspective, implications change.

My aim is simply observation, pause, conversation. What garden cycles, what cycle signals do we take for granted? With climate and weather in flux, we'd do well to look anew at our landscapes -- with refreshed eyes, ears, noses. And think before counting on something we assume based on years past.

Do you recall last year's snow deep into Christmas and New Year's? The shoveling. Utility lines down. Evergreen branches heavy and bending to their breaking point.

This year on the day after New Year's, garden assistant Deja pushed a garden fork deep into moist soil in Wyndmoor, just northeast of Philadelphia. Air temp -- about 46 degrees in the sun. She popped out clumps of large, green, lush scallions and two scraggly red onions. We left the bok choy and kale. They'll tolerate frost, which occurred Jan. 4 at 17 degrees. On Jan 5, the mercury rose to 45 degrees.

Beauties and a Beast
Is anyone else noticing nature out of synch? I wonder. Yes. Spring-flowering ornamental cherry trees were blooming in December! exclaimed Julianne Schieffer, Extension Urban Forester, Penn State School of Forest Resources, Collegeville, PA. It's been warm enough for long enough into winter that their buds opened as if it were spring. Unfortunately, they're not likely to bloom again come late March, she added.

Walking down her office hall, Julianne asked the Extension entomologists if they have noticed things out of synch this year. Their reply: ticks!!! Adult ticks are alive and thriving weeks beyond their usual life cycle, they said with worry. Though those adults will likely die in a deep freeze, their eggs may well survive to hatch during the next warm spell, Julianne speculated.

Continue to take warm-season tick precautions, urged Penn State Extension staff. There's no winter reprieve. Wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, a hat, work gloves. Tuck pants into socks and boots. Spray clothing with tick repellant. Check the body and clothing for ticks after every walk in the woods or around the garden -- anywhere ticks might hatch or live. Also check pets often for eggs, larvae, and adults.

In her protected Philadelphia backyard, garden writer Denise Cowie was surprised to see fresh peppers ready for picking on January 3, before last Wednesday's cold snap. Yes, some roses were still in bud and blooming too. Her Encore azaleas, bred to flower in spring and late summer, were blooming at Christmas. "I don't think they're supposed to do that," said Denise.

Growing Degree Days is a way of explaining these unusual events, Julianne said. The GDD concept tracks phenological events -- periodic biological phenomena -- that are timed by the return and accumulation of warm weather during the growing season, not strictly by calendar date. That is, warm weather, regardless of the time of year, affects insect behavior and plant flowering times. GGDs reflect above-average temperature over time.

I'm curious. What subtle or obvious changes have you noticed in nature's seasonal transitions?

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