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Hamptons Life

The High Cost Of All This Warm Weather

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Andrew messinger   Mar 22, 2012 11:26 AM
Mar 26, 2012 10:09 AM

Seems that every year about this time I’m writing a column about the weather. How cold/hot the winter has been and how much/little snow we’ve had and what to expect in the upcoming gardening season. This year is no different except that our weather/garden discussion really began last August, not this past winter.

On August 27 of last year we were visited by Irene, the hurricane that really wasn’t. But Irene did her damage out here. And while she was more hype than harm, if you have a house within three or four blocks of the ocean or south-facing bayfront, her calling card was and is now, unmistakable.

Right now, the results of the salt spray whipped up by her winds are showing up on evergreens and hedges. But in the next month or so, it will be revealed if she did permanent damage to plants, such as roses and hydrangeas.

It’s another story for those areas that were flooded with over-wash from the ocean and the high tides that flooded the blocks near the ocean and bays. Here the issue is how badly the flooding salt water damaged the roots of perennials, trees, shrubs and lawns.

In Southampton, I see lawns greening up a few blocks north of Meadow Lane but those closer to the ocean and not near the higher land behind the dunes remain brown and probably dead. This has been exacerbated by the fact that it’s been a very dry winter so some of the salt may still remain in the root zone, which might have otherwise have been leached out in a wetter winter.

It’s going to be important for homeowners within this potential damage zone to be able to discern salt spray and salt flooding damage from other types of winter damage before trying to correct the problems. If plants were desiccated by the salt spray then flooded with salt water there’s little that may be done to help all but the indigenous seaside plantings. As a result, it will be critical to determine if high amounts of salt remain in the soil prior to replanting.

Then there was winter. Or was it six months of fall, or maybe a few days of winter with a very long and subtle spring that ended in February and transitioned to summer in March?

When I look back at my weather records and blooming records all I can say is that we’ve been through this before. It happened in 2000, and again in 2007, with mild winters and very early springs. There was little snow, forsythia was blooming early and the magnolias were two weeks early as well. The one difference, so far, was that in 2007 we had a very cold spell in early April with some areas getting nipped by frosts.

I think the lesson here is moderation. I was soooo tempted to pull up my winter mulches in early March this year but I exerted as much self-control as I could. Instead, I just fluffed my mulches to allow more air flow and still keep the sun from beating down on the soil and tender new foliage. I remember losing quite a few primulas in 2007 when I moved my hay and maple leaf mulches to the compost pile, only to have a hard frost burn the foliage and buds.

And remember the nearly total lack of acorns last fall? There were predictions (yes, from yours truly included) that the lack of an acorn crop would result in the collapse of the squirrel and mouse population and would even cut back on the deer population, which also depends on the acorns for sustenance.

Well, guess what. It didn’t happen.

The winter was so warm that it seems that in spite of the loss of the acorn crop, everyone from the white-footed mouse to the white-tailed deer has survived just fine thank you. But this warm weather has resulted in a new problem.

We depend on the cold of winter to kill off a certain amount of our rodent population as well as our insect populations. The early reports are that it just didn’t happen that way last winter. As a result, we can expect more bugs in the garden, both good and bad ones. Also expect more pests—such as white grubs in the lawn and aphids on fruit trees—that will show up in larger numbers, and several weeks earlier than in a normal year.

But of more concern is that because so many white-footed mice were able to survive, along with so many deer, the cycle that promotes high deer tick populations has really been primed for tick season. Thus, an extreme threat of Lyme disease will be upon us.

Even in a year with a severe winter we are one of the country’s hot spots for Lyme disease and this year it’s going to be much worse. That said, I’m not big on spraying entire landscapes for ticks, as that’s just asking for your own little (or major) environmental disaster. I’ve heard of properties being sprayed for ticks so often that natural predators that would control the scale that’s killing lots of privet have themselves been wiped out. Because of the overspraying, the scale survives and thrives in spite of the recommended controls.

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