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Martha Foley's husband Everett Smith illustrating how deep the snow is inside their 7-foot garden fence, last Thursday just after the last big snow. Photo: Martha Foley
Martha Foley's husband Everett Smith illustrating how deep the snow is inside their 7-foot garden fence, last Thursday just after the last big snow. Photo: Martha Foley

Your garden and the deep, deep cold

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Extreme cold nights this week are adding to concerns about how this cold, snowy and icy winter will affect how the yard and garden will grow this year. How deep is the frostline? Is the snow cover protecting perennials? Or is an icy crust smothering the grass? What about flowering shrubs?

Cooperative Extension horticulturist Amy Ivy says the consequences of the winter likely won't be good, especially as trees and shrubs may be beginning to "wake up" as spring approaches. That makes them more vulnerable to the cold. But she says there really isn't much you can do, except wait and see.

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Reported by

Martha Foley
News and Public Affairs Director

Here's what's going on:

You can't really know how deep the frost is going, unless you happen to be digging a foundation. But it's safe to say it's deeper this year than in recent years.

As for snow, it's been a big year for that too, and that's also not great for the garden. If you got snow in your garden before December's ice storm, it may be providing an insulating layer and allowing some gases to move back and forth. But if you have ice underneath the snow, it's a solid layer, and you're mostly out of luck – except when the ice cracks, and allows some gases to pass through.

Another wrinkle is the fact that this is the time of year when the sap is running in maple trees, and a few things are starting to grow. Temperature fluctuations do more damage here than simple cold: Plants may start growing in sunny areas during the day, only to be hit by below-zero temperatures at night. It's hard for any plant to get through that, and there's likely more fun to come in the next six weeks or so.

And, while this might be hard for active gardeners to accept, there's just not much you can do about this. When the snow begins to melt, it's a good idea to try to keep standing water out of the garden; but until then, the best thing to do is stay indoors, and try not to look out the window and worry.

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