Sunday, January 29, 2012

New USDA Planting and Gardening Zones -- The Blog formerly known as Zone Five and a Half *

Change was clearly coming, but ever resistant, the news is still challenging.  The signs were all there, liriope looking green and hardy in March, snowcaps poking out in December, and those resilient weeds, poison ivy for example, just about everywhere.  One bottle of Calamine lotion used to last ten years, but no longer.

Global warming, heat islands created by urban concrete and steel, whatever the reason, the United States Department of Agriculture has made it official, our ZIP code now firmly lands in Zone 6a.  The higher the zone number, the warmer the climate.  This new zone extends even north of Eight Mile Road. 

Likely the true cause is the addition of more subzones, and the recognition that the former sweeping zones were a bit too broad.

The significance to the gardener?  Plants which are marginally hardy are more likely to survive.  This doesn't mean less snow in the winter or hotter temperatures in the summer, but merely that the average lower temperatures haven't plummetted consistently as expected.  The lower range in still rather chilly at -10 to -5 degrees Centigrade.  The absence of snow this winter is palpable to all, and a bit weird, but harken back to last year when the shoveling was endless.  Climate changes are gradual and imperceptible.  Next year we could be up to our knees in the white stuff. 

If pop stars* and athletes can change their names, I suppose this humble blog could do so also, but then the nice lady from Rockford street might not find it.  So, at least for now, the name will remain. 

Don't plant any palm trees or orange groves just yet, though.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Garlic Mustard -- Winter Weeds and Good Deeds

Gardening sometimes seems like a solo sport, good for distraction, great for contemplation.

Garlic Mustard
Even in the winter the gardener is always looking forward, evaluating the past growing cycle yet planning for the next.  The best tool in a gardener's apron is flexibility, followed by durability.  Winter conditions have nearly as much impact on the summer yard as the spring rains.  Global temperature changes, however slight, have a huge effect on the overwintering of marginal plants, especially weeds.

Where trillium bloomed Garlic Mustard prevails
Weeds, poison ivy and other invasive plants scramble to survive, thus when the temperate scales tip upwards towards the next USDA Zone, they are first to "welcome" change.

Purple poison ivy vines
Before snow blankets the yard, after warm weather perennials have retreated to root status, take a tour with spade in hand and note the bright green weeds which may have hidden behind the skirts of the hosta, or in the shadow of bright coneflowers.  Ahead of the freeze, take a few moments to pry those sneaky scoundrels out of the soil, saving time and effort for later in the year.  Point, pop and pull.

Insert a narrow spade a few inches from the central base of the weed, press downward on an angle and pop the miscreant right out of business.  Tap rooted weeds require full removal to prevent a reappearance.

A great tool for this quick task is a telescoping spade which pulls out up to three feet, then twists and locks into place.  Perfect for sensitive backs or knees.  The bright orange handle makes it easy to spot when left behind.

Garlic mustard, an invasive and agressive weed which allegedly made its way to Zone Five and a Half from Europe, is nakedly visible in early winter.  Left unchecked it'll take over the yard and any vacant patch of soil.   It will also smother native woodland plants like trillium and trout lilies. Best to remove this pest when its bright green leaves outshine all else.

Every good deed in nature, whether pulling an invasive weed or planting a tree, pays it forward.  One blooming weed can spawn a hundred seedlings, smothering out native growth.  Five minutes in the garden can make a difference in aesthetics as well as environmental impact.

Point that spade, pop and pull. 

Not bad for the waistline, either.

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