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Hamptons Life

Mar 23, 2018 3:40 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

The March Ramble: Prepare For A Late, Cold, Wet Spring

Treecicles form when a maple branch or limb is wounded and the wound allows sap to run, and freeze on cold, late winter days. This wound is obvious but they often aren’t. ANDREW MESSINGER
Mar 25, 2018 7:29 PM

After several months of the weather folks not quite getting it right, it looks like they hit the nail right on the head for March. In late February, a number of forecasters were calling for a cold and wet March. Indeed, it has been cold and wet: several major snowstorms inland, and our share of the white stuff out here.

What does it mean for our gardens—and what does it mean for your garden plans?

Long range, we’re still looking at a late, cold and wet spring. This translates into later plantings, later sowings and a potentially shorter growing season. And, since the snow has been falling during the warmer part of late winter, the snow has been heavy. It’s been hedge-crushing and limb-dropping snow.

But think back to just before the snow started. We’d just had a warm spell, and the ground had just started to warm up. Before the white stuff dropped from the skies, many hellebores were in full flower. Crocuses were more than peeking, and many were in flower. Many snowdrops were already finished flowering, and the buds on quince were swelling and coloring up.

There was more going on, though, and to some it was invisible. Not to my dog.

As we walked along the driveway, with snow plowed a foot or two high on the sides, she stopped dead in her tracks and froze. I knew the signals, and when she was absolutely sure where to pounce, she rose up on all fours, jumped up a couple of feet, then dove nose-first into the snow and began to dig furiously. Snow was being moved like she was a snowblower on steroids, and then the snow turned to dirt—and the digging suddenly stopped.

I gave the command to step away and, sure enough, she did, and as I peered down into the freshly exposed soil, there was a somewhat stunned mole. Thankfully unhurt but somewhat stunned, the mole quickly took exit into the tunnel.

So, what was the mole doing there in late March?

I think several things were going on. Before the snow fell, there were two weeks of mild weather that warmed the soil down to at least 6 to 10 inches. As the soil warmed, the food that sustains the moles came out of its winter hiatus. With perfect timing, so did the mole. Mother Nature always makes sense like that.

Moles eat soil insects like grubs, soil-dwelling beetles and worms. Now, worms haven’t always been plentiful in mid- to late March. But there’s been a new worm in town—yes, an invasive—and it’s my suspicion that this worm, referred to as the “jumping” worm, was stimulated by the warm soil. It was emerging from its over-wintering cocoons and spreading like crazy. All this to the delight of the moles—and the chagrin of those of us whose lawns now become tunneled much too early in the season.

There’s another phenomenon that’s been obvious during the last few weeks. I call them “treesicles.” For the most part, they occur only on maple trees and only in late winter. These are icicles that form on maple trees at points where the branch or twig has been damaged during the winter by being snapped or wounded, mostly by wind or heavy snow.

During the winter, the internal pressure within the maple is reduced and low, but as the days warm and nights are still cold, the sap begins to flow in what we usually refer to as syrup season. This is when tappers extract the sugary sap from the trees, which is boiled down to make maple syrup.

And, if you should be able to take one of these treesicles off the tree and taste it, sure enough, you realize it’s not just frozen water oozing from the tree but something much sweeter.

Treesicles are indicators. They show where there has been a wound on the maple during the previous six months or so. For the most part, these wounds are self-healing and nothing to worry about, but take a closer look. Sometimes, these treesicles form where there is more severe damage to a limb or branch that might need professional attention.

There also are some instances when a branch or limb can have an insect or disease issue that allows the sap to flow at this time of the year, and this also is something that an arborist should look at if you’re concerned.

The peas, potatoes, radishes and early greens will be a bit late this year. While the soil under the snow was workable, seeding early crops has been a bit difficult, and, with the forecast for wet and cold, some of us are being conservative and holding off.

But, inside, things are growing and maybe a bit too quickly. You may have started peppers, tomatoes, melons and other long-season crops indoors to get a jump on the season and to have your transplants ready. The experienced gardener doesn’t put all of his or her seeds in one pot at one time, though.

As important as successional seeding is outdoors, it has its place indoors as well. Doing small plantings of just a few tomatoes, peppers and melons every 10 days, instead of all of them at once, covers you against the perils of a long and late spring. You can discard those plants that suddenly seem to have been seeded too early and be saved by those that you planted later. It’s home garden crop insurance.

There is an exception, though, and that’s the tomatoes. Even if these were started too early, and they get very leggy, they can still be planted out in the garden at the proper time. You don’t want to leave them leggy, though, as that will just make the indeterminate types even longer and taller. These early starts can simply be planted deeper when the outdoor soil warms, and they’ll root along the stem.

An alternative is that, a week before you’re ready to plant them, and while they’re still indoors, lay them on their side, forcing the stem to grow at 90 degrees as it “rights” itself. When planting outdoors, these right-angled tomatoes are planted with the top skyward as usual, but the stem part that is now 90 degrees to the side simply gets buried, where it will root, and the result will be a normal tomato plant.

A quick tip about mowers:

I never put a new mower blade on my mowers until after the first cut. I get the mower out a week or so before the lawn really needs mowing and use the old blade to mulch up any twigs, leaves and whatever else is left over on the lawn from the winter.

Then I put on a new blade or blades, so my first cut is done with a sharp blade that won’t get nicked and banged by whatever I hit the week before.

Just keep this in the back of your mind, since mowing time is just a few short weeks away.

Keep growing!

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