Like most folks I know, I have been enjoying this taste of Spring in December. Long walks in the woods, evenings around the fire pit, games on the lawn with my grandson, cut flowers in Winter… But at the back of my mind there has been a nagging worry. What does this mean for gardens and gardeners? Is this the new normal?
First let’s focus on what it means for our plants this year. These unseasonable temperatures will have consequences this Spring. The plants themselves are not at greater risk, but blooms now mean fewer blooms in Spring. Fewer blooms mean less fruit, seed and nut production. Less food for us, less food for foraging animals, and less nectar to feed our pollinators.
I’ve seen a few bees out foraging this week. Foraging now means they return to the hive hungry, and feed on their precious store of honey – honey that they will need to get them through the Winter. If you keep bees, make sure to supplement their food this Winter. Come Spring, they will venture out and find fewer blooms, less nectar. The life cycles of pollinators may not coincide with flowering this year, and that will have a negative effect on both pollinators and plants. We will see reduced pollination and thus less fruit production. This is sad for home gardeners, and financially troubling for commercial growers.
Whatever you do, don’t prune yet! It is tempting to get out in the warm weather and do some cleanup, but pruning now will encourage new growth that will be susceptible to winter kill when the temperatures drop again. Fruiting plants need more cooling hours before they are ready for production, so leave them be until February.
So is this the “new normal”? Climate science says we can expect continued gradual warming, and Winter warm-ups like this will become more common. http://www.ipcc.ch/ipccreports/tar/wg2/index.php?idp=353 While an individual cannot change the weather, we can do our part to reduce our personal carbon footprint, and put pressure on corporations to do the same. And we can keep on gardening, organically whenever possible. Please reduce or eliminate your use of pesticides to give our bees a fighting chance. Our Personal Edens have a net positive effect on our local air quality, soil health, wildlife health, and our own health. So keep up the good work, fellow gardeners! Keep Calm Garden On.