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.