by Jan Cashman

The weather affects how our trees, shrubs, flowers, and vegetables grow each year.  Here is a brief rundown of 2010’s weather and growing conditions:  Last winter’s temperatures were mild, but winter snowfall was well above average; three major snowfalls in October of 2009 blanketed our ground till April.   This past May was the coolest in 35 years, to the dismay of us gardeners.  And May more than lived up to its reputation as being the wettest month of the year here.   The moisture continued;  it rained measurably 20 of the 30 days in June.  Then, on June 30, the worst hailstorm in years with golf-ball sized hail devastated many of the valley’s gardens.

The weather in July turned warmer and drier, so our garden vegetables and flowers finally started to grow.   The wet weather returned in August.  After a few days of rain in September, the weather was warm and beautiful and October continued the trend.  This year’s gorgeous fall weather with vibrant fall leaf colors lingering into late October has made up for last year’s snowy, cold October when leaves froze on the trees and turned brown.

How did this weather affect our plants? Trees and shrubs flowered and leafed out later than usual this year because of the cold spring.  Flower and vegetable gardens got off to a slow start.  Our apricot tree bloomed the latest it has ever bloomed in the 16 years it has been in our orchard.  Because it leafed out so late, the blossoms didn’t freeze, so we got a crop of tasty apricots.  By mid-June, the cool, wet weather set local trees, shrubs, and gardens back a good two weeks.  To get an idea of how late plants were this year, some tulips were still blooming on June 22 and some peonies on August 1!

The season for harvesting rhubarb and asparagus was long because of the cool weather in May.  Many plants thrived in the cooler, wetter weather.  Our strawberries bore well; we kept them netted so the birds couldn’t get them.  (We prefer the larger, sweeter Sparkle Junebearing strawberries over the small, oblong Quinalt everbearing.)  Many customers reported their raspberry crops were poor, but our Boyne raspberries bore well with enough fruit to freeze a few.   Again this year, our 28 year old Meteor cherry tree produced buckets of fruit for many delicious pies.  When the cherries first started to ripen, we were worried that the robins would eat them all before we could pick them.  The tree is too big to net, but there turned out to be enough cherries for all of us.  We pit the cherries and freeze them with sugar– enough for one pie in each bag.

The apple crops in our valley were huge in 2009; because many apple varieties bear well every other year, this year’s apple crops weren’t so good.    Also, the hail on June 30 damaged some of the tiny, immature apples.  But, we did have a good crop of apples on our Hazen, Minjon, Chestnut Crab, and Goodland trees.  Our Haralson, Haralred, Sweet 16, and State Fair had few apples or none.

Members of the Gallatin Gardeners Club reported their gardening successes or failures during the October 4 meeting.   It was a good year for spinach and lettuce.  John Austin, an expert and enthusiastic gardener, recommended ‘Simpson Elite’ lettuce because it didn’t bolt.  It was a good year for carrots.  I had a large crop of carrots again– ‘Danvers Half Long’.  This year, it was especially important to plant early sweet corn varieties.  John Austin recommended cold tolerant ‘Kandy Kwik’ sweet corn (66 days).  Because there wasn’t a killing frost until late into the fall, tomatoes had a chance to ripen.  Early varieties of tomatoes, such as ‘Celebrity’, produced best for us.    Jennifer Weiss, experienced professional gardener, gave us a tomato plant called ‘A Grappoli Carbarino’, an Italian type which bore lots of small, sweet, oblong tomatoes throughout the season.

A couple of the Garden Club members reported that they did not have good luck with the gimmicky ‘upside down tomatoes’.  But, their tomatoes grew well in the water-from-below Earth Boxes.

We had to wait until this summer to know just how badly the severe cold snap last October damaged our trees and other plants. (On October 12, 2009, we set a record low of 9 degrees.)  Many trees, such as green ash, maples, and quaking aspens, leafed out late or not at all.  Then, as summer wore on, it became evident that the tops of some pine trees were dying.  This is thought to be caused by repeated hail damage.   You should remove these dead tops and a new leader will form.

Damaging insects, like aphids and spider mites, weren’t bad in 2010, although pear slugs on cotoneaster and plums arrived on schedule, about August 1.   The mountain pine beetle infestation seems to be declining; the cold spell last October may have killed a good share of them.

Our beautiful, long fall gave us gardeners plenty of time to harvest late crops, plant bulbs, and winterize.  If you haven’t already done so, be sure to wrap your fruit trees and other smooth-barked trees to protect from sunscald, rodents, and deer, and give your trees and other plants a good, deep watering before the ground freezes.

by Jan Cashman

Every year’s weather and growing conditions are unique and 2009 is no exception.  After a number of years of hot, dry summers, 2009 was neither hot nor dry.  In fact, March was one of the coldest and wettest in over a decade after a February whose average temperatures were actually warmer than March’s.  Then, April was the wettest April we have ever experienced with 50 inches of snowfall (4.5 inches of liquid precipitation) at the MSU weather station. 

The rest of the summer proved more of the same. A short stretch of warm weather in late May warmed the soils so we had quick germination of seeds in our vegetable garden and bedding plants got off to a good start. Temperatures, although above the long-term averages, were cooler than they have been for the last few summers.  The Belgrade airport had above average precipitation for June, July and August.  It finally turned hot and dry in September, with no killing frosts until September 21.

How did all this affect growing things?  Most plants, from lawns to vegetables to trees and shrubs, thrived in this cooler, wetter weather.   Keeping all our plants watered was easier with all the help from Mother Nature.  This year we didn’t have brown spots in the lawn where our sprinkler system misses.  

My husband, Jerry, planted sweet peas on April 22.  By July 6, they were blooming and we kept picking them so they continued to bloom profusely all summer and didn’t dry out later in the summer like they usually do.  Annual flowers grew nicely, so by August 1, our son Mike’s wedding, my bright annual flower garden of zinnias, allysum, cosmos, osteospermum, and verbena looked gorgeous!  My batchelor buttons that always reseed themselves usually fizzle out as the summer gets hot, but this year, late in the season, they still look good.  I love bachelor buttons’ intense blue color in a cut bouquet. 

Small fruits like strawberries and raspberries did well.  Our Boyne raspberries bore more than we had time to pick.  And even the strawberries we just planted this spring in our raised bed produced well.   Our 30-year-old meteor pie cherry continues to amaze us with its production.  Jerry has made 27 cherry pies from this tree since Aug. 1.  Our apple crop looks good along with most other apple trees in the Valley.  We have picked and are eating the early apples-Norland, Goodland, Hazen, State Fair, and Chestnut and Whitney crabs.  The later ripening apples will benefit from a good frost before we pick them.  Unfortunately, this was the worst year in a long time for fireblight, a bacterial disease of apple trees, pears, hawthorns, and cotoneaster.

The September meeting of the Gallatin Gardeners Club entitled “What worked and what didn’t in this year’s gardens”  was led by Don Mathre, who said it was the best gardening year for a long time.    This year’s proceeds from sales at the Farmers’ Market from the Garden Club’s huge garden were the best they have ever had.  The money they make at the Farmer’s Market is donated to local charities and scholarships.

Members had many vegetable garden experiences to report.  Cool weather crops such as spinach, lettuce, and broccoli were fantastic.  All garden vegetables, even tomatoes and sweet corn, did well, too.   We can attest to that.  Our sweet corn (we grew 6 different varieties) was great although a lot of it ripened at once.  Fleet and Trinity are two new, early varieties of sweet corn we tried that produce big, sweet ears.   We have never had as many ripe tomatoes as we do this year.  I have frozen many for use in chili, spaghetti, and stew this winter.  Sungold, a yellow, cherry tomato, is as sweet a tomato as I have eaten.  Our Northern Delight tomato plant has produced what seems like hundreds of small tomatoes.  The bigger varieties of tomatoes like Big Beef and Parks Whopper are very big this year!

 Some members of the garden club have built cold frames to extend their season, others, greenhouses.  Some of the members growing tomatoes in greenhouses had trouble with diseases or herbicide damage. 

Again this year, many of the garden club members were challenged by deer, voles, and rabbits eating their vegetables.  Rabbits seem to be more plentiful this year. Slugs were worse because of the wetter weather. 

In 2009, the mountain pine beetle caused the death of hundreds of Scotch and Ponderosa pines in our valley.  Responsible homeowners have removed their dead pines and disposed of them properly.  To save remaining pines, most homeowners sprayed and/or installed Verbenone patches to keep the beetle off their trees.  Hopefully, those measures will work and we’ll have less pine deaths next year.

 There is still plenty of time this fall to plant bulbs, garlic, perennials, trees and shrubs.   Remember to protect your trees from deer, rodents, and sunscald and deep water trees late this fall before the ground freezes.   You’ll be on your way to another great gardening year in 2010!

by Jan Cashman

Don Mathre summed it up at the October Gallatin Gardener’s Club meeting when he said that he has gardened here for 41 years and this has been the most challenging year ever because of the cold, wet, spring and three hailstorms within five days in July. Truly the wet, cold, floods, and hail of 2008 made gardening challenging. Let’s take a look at how this year’s weather affected our gardens:

The winter total for snowfall, according to Greg Ainsworth’s column in the Bozeman Chronicle, was the most since the winter of 98/99. April was cooler and wetter than average. That meant people were planting less this April compared with last year’s April, when we got an early start because of good weather. Our apricot tree (apricots are one of the first trees to bloom in the spring) bloomed on May 11 in 2008 compared with April 11 in 2007; we were one month behind in degree days. We planted our sweet corn on May 29, as usual, but it took 18 days to germinate. We were lucky the seed didn’t rot in the ground because of the cold, wet soil. Memorial Day weekend brought 4+ inches of rain in many places. That, combined with the heavy mountain runoff, caused flooding along rivers and streams. Homeowners in lower areas didn’t have time to worry about their gardens; they were sandbagging their homes.

Towards the end of June, vegetable and flower gardens started to come around. Lilacs bloomed two weeks later than normal, but they were beautiful and their blooms lasted a long time. Shrub roses thrived in the cooler, wetter weather. On July 13th, it got down to 38 degrees at MSU, but some gardeners south of town had frost which hurt their tomatoes and other tender vegetables. Most people’s raspberry crops, including our Boynes, were great.

Then, on July 23, a devastating hailstorm hit the south and west parts of Bozeman. Gardens there were flattened, although our garden, and plants at the nursery, escaped with minor damage. At the Gallatin Gardener’s Club’s fall meeting on “What worked and what didn’t in gardens this year”, many of the members said that even though the hail where they lived was severe, their gardens bounced back well. July was cooler this year after last year’s record heat. Ainsworth reported daytime highs ran about 8 degrees cooler than 2007, but still were above average. Plants grew well. I noticed the annual flowers at Riverside Country Club were gorgeous.

Two insect pests hit our area hard this summer. The mountain pine beetle is a serious problem in pines, especially Scotch and lodgepole. Most professionals say that once the tree is infected, it cannot be saved. But preventive measures can be taken. Grasshoppers are not supposed to thrive in wet conditions, but once the weather dried in July, many who lived in drier spots reported the worst grasshoppers ever.

Despite all the challenges,most vegetable gardens were productive. We enjoyed eating our garden lettuce for weeks. Although the zucchinis in our garden were slow to mature, Cashman Nursery’s Zucchini Festival was well attended with many entries for the largest zucchini. The late fall (it seems the falls get later every year) with only light freezes until well into October, helped extend the flowers, colorful leaves, and vegetables. We were still eating later varieties of sweet corn on October 6! Our reliable Meteor pie cherry bore more fruit than we could use again this year. (We remembered to spray during the spring and summer for the worms that invade the cherries.) Our Hazen, Minjon, Goodland, and Honeygold apple trees were loaded with apples, but other apple varieties in our orchard had small crops or none, probably because they had extra heavy crops last year. Most apple trees that bear an exceptionally heavy crop one year seem to bear lighter or not at all the next.

Finally, on October 8, the thermometer dropped to 18 degrees here, killing all the annual flowers and late vegetables. Fall, then cold and snow, arrived within a week.

Although we struggled with cold, floods, frost, and hail, most of us ended up with beautiful flower and abundant vegetable gardens. Here in the Gallatin Valley, each gardening year is unique. Gardening even varies with different locations or microclimates around the valley.

The saying, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes”, seems especially applicable to Montana. I might add my own saying: “If gardening was tough for you this year, there is always hope for next year.”


By Jan Cashman

Our hot July wasn’t the only weather extreme to affect the 2007 growing season; we also had snow, rain, frost, drought, all kinds of weather that affected our plants’ growth this past spring and summer.

Well above average snowfall last February and an early, warm spring made the Gallatin Valley green, green, green by May. Our friend, Father Denis Cashman, was visiting us in May and commented that the Gallatin Valley looked like the Garden of Eden–and he’s from Ireland! In an eight day period at the end of May we had 5″ of rain! Gardens were soggy.

Apple and flowering crabapple blossoms were spectacular in mid-May. Then, a hail storm hit on a Sunday afternoon and the blossoms were gone. For many days in May we were harvesting and enjoying meals of our asparagus. We recommend the newer variety of asparagus called Jersey Knight over the old standby, Mary Washington. It produces thicker stalks and more of them.

Even though it was a little wet to work the ground, we planted our vegetable garden as usual on Memorial Day. I planted my annual flowers, too, and the plants were off to a great start. On June 26, we were lucky, it only got down to 32 degrees at our house and our tomatoes were protected with “Walls-o-water”. Others weren’t so lucky. It got cold enough to damage many area gardener’s tomatoes, peppers, and other tender plants.

Each year, at the October meeting of the Gallatin Gardeners Club, members report on what worked for them in their gardens this season. A number of the members mentioned good crops of strawberries. Their everbearing varieties, Quinalt and Fort Laramie, and the day-neutral called Tri Star were reported as being especially productive when they received enough water. Raspberries were good this year, too although our Boynes had a bigger crop in 2006.

July, 2006 was hot, but July of 2007 shattered all heat records. We had triple digit temperatures 14 times in July, breaking an all time heat record on July 6 when it got up to 106 degrees. July’s nights were warmer than usual, too. The heat was good for most growing things if they got enough water. Low humidity made watering even more crucial. Don Mathre, from the Gallatin Gardener’s Club, said once the heat hit in July, his usual watering amount of 1 inch per week was not enough for his sweet corn and squash. More than doubling his watering helped a great deal.

The hot days and nights in July may have been uncomfortable for us humans, but many plants thrive in those conditions if they have adequate water. Junipers showed lots of new growth. Linden, a shade tree that can be slow-growing, put on lots of growth this summer. Jerry feels this tree is underused in the landscape since it is relatively disease and insect free. Some flowers do better in the heat than others-my zinnias, osteospermum, petunias, and marigolds looked great all summer–perennials like salvia, coreopsis, and rudbeckia, too. On the other hand, seeding grass during a hot, dry summer is difficult, at best. August, with its cooler nights, especially if we get some rain, is a better time.

Fireblight, a bacterial disease that strikes apples, pears, mountain ash, and cotoneaster, was made worse by this spring’s wet, warm conditions. Aphids were not as bad this year as they were last year. Terminal weevils continue to kill the top growth of spruce.

Ross McPherson, retired Forest Service, thinks the heavy spring rains during the time when spruce budworms were hatching, may have reduced their numbers. This caterpillar is devastating local forests of Douglas fir and Engelman spruce. Spider mites, a tiny red spider that feeds on junipers, arborvitaes, spruce, and potentilla, thrive during hot dry summers. Jerry commented that he’s seldom seen spider mites attack alpine currant shrubs like they did this summer.

We were excited about our huge pie cherry crop until we started picking them, and, for the first time in 25 years, the cherries had worms! What a disappointment; next year we’ll remember to spray. Thrips, an insect that attacks flower buds, deforming them and preventing them from opening, were a big problem on gladiolus this year.

Garden club members again named deer as their biggest garden pest. Don Mathre was able to keep the rabbits out of his broccoli once he started spraying with a rabbit and deer repellant containing animal blood. The vole population in our yard and garden seems reduced from a couple of years ago. Possibly the cold, open November and December of 2006 may have reduced their numbers, along with the snowy February.

Most gardeners had another great tomato growing season. Fleet and Kandiquick, early varieties of sweetcorn in our garden, were prolific and sweet. But the later (81 day) variety, Incredible, was—-“incredibly” sweet with large cobs. We had a great crop of huge Red Cored Chardenay and Danvers carrots. There are plenty to last us for months.

The trees in our orchard were loaded with apples and pears this fall. We had to pick some earlier than we wanted so the birds wouldn’t get them first. Plum crops were good everywhere; no one reported getting any apricots. A frost must have gotten the blossoms.

2007 weather affected some plants positively; some didn’t do as well. The fact that we haven’t had a really hard freeze when I’m writing this on October 21 has produced a long fall of beautiful leaves. From maples, to quaking aspens, to mountain ash, to colorful shrubs, what fall beauty for us to enjoy before winter sets in!

by Jan Cashman

It is again time to look back on this years’ growing season and reflect what the gardening successes and failures were in our area and how our gardens were affected by the weather.

Last winter was a snowy one with most of the snowfall early. February was dry, but even so, we entered spring with enough moisture. January and early February had average to above temperatures, but the below-average cold weather for a few days in mid-February may have frozen some apple buds. April was warm, especially early in the month, and mid-May brought unusually hot weather that pushed the whole growing season ahead at least two weeks. Jerry recorded in his weather diary at the end of May that “lilacs were 10 days to 2 weeks ahead of 2005 and the best in years.” We harvested and ate lots of delicious asparagus and rhubarb in May.

Even though it cooled off for awhile in June with average rains, May’s warm weather, with no killing frost after May 13 had pushed plants to blossom and bear early. I recorded picking a big bouquet of sweet peas on June 27; usually we don’t get our first blossoms until July 4. (And I was still picking them on September 28!) July was the hottest month ever recorded at the Belgrade airport. The thermometer rose to over 90 degrees for 17 consecutive days in late July! Getting enough water to our plants, especially those in pots at our nursery, became a real challenge. But the heat pushed our Boyne raspberries to ripen at least two weeks earlier than usual, with a heavy crop.

Jerry and I attended the Gallatin Gardener’s Club October 2 meeting to hear reports on “what worked and what didn’t” in the members’ gardens. The warm spring weather with adequate moisture in June helped get their annual flowers and vegetable gardens off to a great start. Most members reported bountiful vegetable crops. Tomatoes and peppers did especially well this year. Walter Mason said his pole beans grew taller than he is. And he was still harvesting zucchini on October 2.

John Austin, local tomato expert and grower, had tomatoes bigger and better than ever. His biggest tomato, an heirloom variety called ‘Goldie’, weighed 1lb.12 oz! John had Yukon Supreme sweet corn ripe the third week in July. One variety of his sweet corn grew to 9 feet tall! Jerry and I ate our first meal of sweetcorn (Fleet variety) from our garden on August 6. The fact that we hadn’t had a killing frost yet on October 2 made for excellent winter squash and pumpkins. We planted Butternut squash in our garden as an afterthought to fill in a couple of empty spaces. It grew so well it took over. I harvested more than 20 squash off two plants at the end of September. Even those who live at higher, cooler elevations, like Tony Geis at 5400 feet in Kelly Canyon, had good crops of vegetables, even sweet corn.

The warm summer made for excellent grape crops. One Garden Club member reported his Valiant grapes were excellent. Kevin Wiedenheft, in Valley Unit Subdivision, had large, sweet, fully ripe Swensons Red grapes this year. Our pie cherry and Mount Royal plum trees bore record crops at least two weeks earlier than normal. Jerry has made twenty-one cherry pies from the Meteor cherries we picked in July. We are still drying mountains of the sweet prune-type Mount Royal plums. Winona Vandermolen from Churchill said she made a delicious pie with her Mount Royal plums.

Deer were the #1 garden pest reported by the Garden Club members. Members that lived in areas populated by deer said the deer ate almost everything, sometimes even plants that they usually avoid, like marigolds. Voles are still damaging area lawns, trees, and gardens. The apple crop around town on most trees was sparse or nonexistent, possibly because most trees bore heavy crops last year. And the few apples there were had been pecked and eaten by birds as soon as they ripened.

This summer was a bad one for insect pests. At the nursery we had early reports of severe infestations of aphids. Spraying with insecticides helped control them, but reapplications were necessary. The Cottony psyllid, an insect similar to the aphid, continues to do a lot of damage on black ash trees. Lots of spider mites appeared, especially on junipers, arborvitae and potentilla, during the warm dry spell in July. Spruce budworm is rampant in Douglas fir in the surrounding forests and has started to infect spruce in yards adjacent to the forest. Another insect, terminal weevil, causes the tops of spruce to die. Both spruce budworm and terminal weevil are difficult to control.

2006 was noteworthy for unusually hot weather in May and the longest growing season we have seen for years, with no killing frost from May 13 to October 10. (We had a light frost on August 31.) Now that it has cooled off, enjoy the area’s colorful leaves and remember to protect your plants from winter extremes by wrapping the trunks of young and smooth-barked trees, covering tender hybrid tea roses, mulching tender perennials, and deep watering trees, shrubs, and perennial flowers so their roots are moist when the ground freezes. Rake leaves and debris from under trees and shrubs so insects don’t overwinter there and protect vulnerable trees and shrubs from voles and deer. You can still plant spring-flowering bulbs and peonies as long as the ground isn’t frozen, and then look forward to a colorful garden next spring.