New England's snowy winter pushes back gardening season

AP News
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Posted: Apr 18, 2015 11:26 AM
New England's snowy winter pushes back gardening season

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — The historic barrage of snow and cold that struck New England this winter has pushed back the gardening season and left behind damaged bushes, trees and greenhouses — and gardeners clamoring to get their hands in the dirt.

The growing season is one to two weeks behind schedule after a winter that lacked the usual mid-season thaw and kept the snow piling up.

In Boston, where 108.6 inches of snow broke a two-decade-old record, the first of the crocuses were showing this week and daffodils were just breaking ground. Typically those flowers would already be in full bloom, said John Forti, horticultural director for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society.

"I've never been so elated to see brown dirt in my life as I was this spring," he said.

While the blankets of snow insulated and protected plants and roots from winter winters, the weight of it broke off tree branches, damaged greenhouses and crushed bushes as it fell off roofs, meaning extra work in addition to a late start.

The good news is that the water table is up significantly, a boon for plants recovering from the tough winter and assaults from hungry critters.

"They will need that additional ground water to rebound quickly," Forti said.

This winter's bitter cold also took its toll. In Vermont, where both Montpelier and Rutland endured their coldest Februaries on record, gardeners may notice dieback on ornamental plants, particularly trees like evergreens.

"Our expectation is that we will see customers coming back with a myriad of problems with burn on their plants," said Carol MacLeod, of Evergreen Gardens of Vermont in Waterbury Center, which sells trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals. "Not necessarily dead but dieback, browning of evergreens, that sort of thing."

Pruning will be a desired skill this spring to help plants recover. Since different plants, trees and shrubs have different pruning needs, experts recommend taking a class or referring to instructional videos or books.

The winter was also tough on animals, which MacCleod said are out in full-force now eating plants and trees. They also browsed in winter, with voles tunneling underground around the base of trees, stripping off the bark. Other critters — rabbits and deer — chewed on plants and trees higher up than usual based on the snow height.

"We're going to have some strange looking topiaries in our yard," Forti said.

Hungry deer have been a problem since February at an apple orchard in southern Maine, after the snow hardened and they were able to travel across it and eat the buds from trees.

"They pretty much devastated a back orchard of ours which is surrounded by electric fence," said Ellen McAdam, of McDougal Orchards in Springvale, Maine. She estimates that 75 percent of the apples on the small trees in the 20-acre block are gone but is waiting to see the blossoms on the trees to see how they fared.

As the ground dries and warm spring days become more frequent, Charlie Cole, general manager of Cole Gardens in Concord, New Hampshire, is expecting to be busy, following the seemingly endless winter.

"Our consumers are tired of the winter and dying to be outside and dying for color," he said.