The Joy of Cold!

Happy Gardening New Year! If you’ve felt like you’ve been living in Antarctica the last few weeks, you’re not alone. The cold temperatures have been downright frigid in some areas. As a gardener, however, I’ve welcomed this venture into the deep freeze!

Although you may not realize it right now, the results of a prolonged cold snap will pay back a multitude of dividends for your garden next summer. Sustained periods of cold weather addresses a variety of common garden problems and, in many cases, may reduce or eliminate them.

Remember all of that systemic insecticide that you applied last summer? If this cold trend continues, the good new is that you probably won’t need it, or at least as much of it as you have over the past few years. Sustained, extreme arctic temperatures are an effective way to knock back insect populations that have been so rampant over the past few summers. Since we haven’t had particularly cold winters for the past few years, and the bug populations have thrived and multiplied through those warm winters turning the summers into a bug paradise and consequently a challenge for gardeners. A good, cold winter will be especially devastating to aphids, thrips, and whiteflies which are frequently some of the most common pest problems in this area.
Fungal problems aren’t typically as prevalent here as they are in more humid areas, but they do exist. Prolonged cold weather will work to kill those organisms and reduce or eradicate some of those funguses. As a result, fungal spores that usually overwinter, may be knocked back. If we do not have a wet, hot summer, you should see less fungal infections in your lawn and garden.

The cold is beneficial to your garden and landscape in other ways too. High altitude trees such as aspens, Englemann spruce, and ponderosa pine benefit from cold weather because it tends to kill off beetle and other parasite populations that can devastate these trees in particular. Cold weather will also slow transpiration, resulting in reduced moisture loss across all plants, trees, and shrubs.

Although cold temperatures have wonderful benefits, there are a few negative effects for your garden as well. If you have planted a “borderline” plant in your yard, meaning it may be only marginally suited for your zone, you run the risk that it may not survive. This is where all of the beautiful snow we’ve been having can help. Snow is a great insulator and can help protect those more tender perennials or newly planted small shrubs from this bitter cold.

If you haven’t had an abundance of snow, be sure to help Mother Nature out by protecting the more tender and young plants in your yard with a layer of mulch, covering with blankets, frost guard or other protection for them from bitter cold temperatures. A frigid cold day with a brisk wind will freeze dry them quickly, so you want to be sure to provide some shelter for them. On the upside, frozen ground also makes it easier to walk in the yard, if you do need to get outside to lay down mulch, provide coverings, or simply get a breath of fresh air by a stroll through the garden on a sunny day. You won’t leave ruts or sink into the mud although that will come later!

All in all, I’m thrilled to see the extended cold this winter because I know it will make life next summer much more pleasant. I’d rather deal with snow and cold now, then do the daily battle with pests and diseases of the past few summers. In the meantime, enjoy the wintry conditions- planting season is just around the corner!