Monday, January 20, 2014

What to Know about Plants and Snow

Recent snowfall and record-shattering temperatures are impossible to ignore. Can you imagine being a plant out in those conditions 24/7 with your roots in wet, frozen ground, snow knee high, and the rest of your "body" exposed to brutal winds? It certainly goes beyond my definition of chilling.

What's a plant to do? There is good news. Snow is an incredible insulator. So, things like perennials and shrubs that are buried under snow are really safer than tender stems that are above the snowline exposed to the full force of below-zero temperatures and wind. Further, plants recognize real air temperature, not wind chill.

The latest USDA plant hardiness map shows the area adjacent to Lake Michigan as Zone 6 (minimum low -5/10 degrees F.). The temperatures our landscape plants have just experienced are Zone 5 minimums (-15/20 degrees F.). So, those of us that push the hardiness boundaries with Zone 6 plants may get our garden comeuppance this spring. I should check my black suit as I may be holding spring services in my own garden. Oh well, we plant die-hards (haha) say you really haven't tried a plant until you've killed it three times!

Sorry, I digressed. Again, snow is beneficial. The best thing that could happen for the rest of the winter is that temperatures would rise to the upper 20s/low 30s, allowing snow cover to remain until late winter. It's alternating freeze/thaw, warm/cold, warm/cold cycles that really damage plants.

The logical question that arises from that statement is, "So, it's alright to bury them in snow?" Yes, with a big caution about how the snow is placed on them. Perennials are kind of a nonissue since they're largely cut back. There's not much of consequence to damage. For things you left standing, like ornamental grasses, it's not the end of the world if their foliage is bent over and broken.


On the contrary, flowering shrubs and evergreens that have slender, breakable stems shouldn't have shovelfuls of heavy, wet snow dumped over the top. If the snow is light and fluffy, and can be placed gently around plants, that's fine. For those that use snowblowers - If you can direct the top of the chute so you're throwing snow beyond the plants, that's great.

Ice encasing plants is very different than snow. Not only do you have more potential for physically breaking branches, but there is a likelihood of plant parts dying from being encased in ice for long periods of time, particularly evergreens. Preventing these stalactites from reaching the plant and encasing it may prevent a lot of branch amputation come spring.
Should we remove snow and ice from branches? That's a great two part question. If you see evergreen branches weighted down with SNOW and you can gently shake it off without breaking that's great! Use something soft like gloved hands or a broom that doesn't have hard parts to physically damage the plant.

If the plant is encased in ice you can only hope for a gradual melt. Don't be tempted to use a bucket of hot water as a deicer. Don't laugh. Anything that can be conceived can be done... and has been. The results aren't good.With ice, you just have to wait and see what happens in the spring.

With plants buried in snow, damage can come from deer and rabbit grazing. With little leafy and green in the winter landscape certain evergreens must be looking mighty tasty. At this stage I would recommend draping valuable plantings of arborvitae and yews with black mesh netting (appropriately called "deer netting"), pegging it down with bricks or stones. That should reduce animal browsing.

Pay attention to the deicing products you use on surfaces. Avoid salt-based products which can damage plants either by splashing on foliage, or being absorbed through roots later. We recommend products like Paw Thaw (calcium magnesium acetate) that decompose into by-products that are safe for plants and pets, while not having negative effects on soil.

Here's hoping the spring thaw brings you a garden unfazed by winter weather!

Monday, January 6, 2014

TO YOU: Clean Air..... FROM: Hardworking Houseplants

Jade Plant

Have you thanked your houseplants recently for the gifts they give you? Sure, you know they produce oxygen. Did you know they're working 24/7 to detox your home? Unfortunately, I've taken them for granted, too. I water, give them periodic showers, feed regularly during the growing season, check for livestock infestations, and think that's enough. Do I consciously think about what my tropicals do for me every day besides being beautiful, calming and oxygen-producing? Not so much!

Our emphasis on energy efficiency and "tight" construction comes at a cost. Toxic compounds like benzene, formaldehyde, styrene, trichloroethylene and a host of others are lurking in our homes. Cigarette smoke, emissions from construction materials, cleaning fluids, paint removers, adhesives, flooring, hair care products and nail polish are just a few of the volatile organic compound (VOC) producers.

Boston Fern

We should all know about the NASA studies done years ago that prove just how much houseplants do to protect us. They literally absorb and remove VOCs from our indoor environment. Want a staggering fact to share when conversation lags at your next party? Having fifteen (6-8" diameter pot size) houseplants placed throughout an 1800 sq. ft. house removes 87% of the total toxins in just one day! Isn't it great to know you can dramatically improve your family's air quality with the addition of some houseplants? How much easier can life be?

Are all plants created equal in their ability to purify air? Evidently there are plants that are specific in their toxin-removing capabilties. So, it would seem logical to have a variety of plants to capture as many different pollutants as possible. The plants that show up on everyone's list of great air cleaners are:

* Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)                           * Philodendron
* Golden Pothos                                                 * Schefflera 
* Spider Plant (Chlorophytum)                         * Ferns
* Palms                                                                * Orchids
* Dracaena (many - including marginata, Corn Plant and  'Janet Craig')

Golden Pothos

Research has even suggested room-specific plant placement. If you're concerned about oxygen in your home consider Bromeliads, many orchids and succulents (think Jade Plant) for your bedroom. Why? These plant families really increase their oxygen production/carbon dioxide absorption cycle at night. Wouldn't it be great to know your plants are working hard to enhance your personal health, even while you're sleeping?

In addition to better air quality, another plant benefit is increased learning. Sounds incredible, doesn't it? But, at the university level, European research found that attendance improved, test scores rose and behavioral issues dropped more than 60% in classrooms containing plants- as opposed to plant-free environments. To be fair, let's put the shoe on the other foot. Parents, you can improve your reaction time up to 12% on computer tasks in a room containing plants. Touche.

Spider Plant

Everyone, rise from your beds and computer stations right now. Go thank your Schefflera, your Spider plant, your Dracaena for the daily gift of clean air. It's easier than writing a thank you note, don't you think?