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Frost Heaves

New England seasons and their accompanying weather are not known for their predictability and winter is no exception. In fall, we often expect a constant layer of snow and steady cold temperatures only to find that Mother Nature has other plans.

This month has seen a little bit of everything. The only major snowstorm we've had so far left 8-12 inches of snow on the garden bed, which promptly disappeared when it was followed by several days of unseasonably warm temperatures. This week featured a stretch of 50-55 degree rainy days that encouraged the crowns of my daylilies to rise up from the ground and send up green shoots. Now we're back to normal winter cold. Will the daylilies suffer?

It's common for fluctuating temperatures to cause frost heaving. When water in the soil freezes and melts repeatedly, it causes plant roots to move and the crowns to push upward. A prolonged period warm weather can then stimulate growth. Some gardeners panic when they spot their spring beauties pushing up in January. My daylilies are years old and well established, so they'll probably not suffer any permanent damage. Younger plants, including those planted late the previous fall are more at risk.

There's not a whole lot that can be done about this phenomenon once it occurs. The Missouri Botanical Garden offers advice on prevention, which starts with proper preparation of the garden bed before planting. This includes amending the soil so that it drains well and does not hold water that can alternately freeze and melt, planting early enough in the fall to allow root systems to become well-established, and mulching.

The nervous gardener who sees green shoots in mid-winter will do well to just relax and ride out the season, perhaps with a plan to rectify any soil problems and replace any truly damaged specimens come spring. There are some things we can control in the garden, and a thousand that we can't. The garden will be OK ...and so will the gardener.

Charlotte