Sunday, December 16, 2012

Snow Catchers

Weather: Finally some snow Friday, with some more last night; 9:46 hours of daylight today.

What’s still green: Rose stems, juniper, pine, and other evergreens, yucca, Japanese honeysuckle, vinca.

What’s red: Cholla; apple, apricot and sandbar willow branches.

What’s grey or blue: Winterfat leaves.

What’s blooming inside: Zonal geraniums, aptenia, petunias.

Animal sightings: Robins, chickadees after the snow stopped Friday. The robins must have been migrating when they got caught in the storm. When I first saw them, there were in the road on the river side of my land, and scrounging for seeds among the native shrubs. Later, they moved a bit inland to my cherry tree, and then to the locust. Yesterday, I saw one in the densely branched rose of Sharon.

Weekly update: A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend in Santa Fé who was recommending I water my plants, especially the new fruit trees. He’d been irrigating some of his, and said it took nearly half an hour to put enough water in the ground for it to begin puddling on the surface.

I mumbled something about it being much too cold to water where I was. Our temperatures, morning and night had been running at least ten degrees below his. Once trees enter their dormancy phase, I’m afraid to do anything except leave it to nature and hope.

I’ve thought some since about our dissimilar reactions to this fall. Some can be attributed to the differences between being raised in Michigan and in eastern Texas where watering does save shrubs in cold spells. But then the plants there are not as cold hardy as the ones growing here.

My biggest concern was that we were having very cold mornings, with temperatures below 10f, and no snow cover to insulate plants against daily extremes. When it snowed Friday, the first thing I did was check that snow indeed had filtered through the grasses and was covering the interstices. Yesterday, I looked again, hoping the twenty-fours of melting had not removed too much protection.

The grasses had detained their snow, but the barren areas were unprotected against the depredations of sun, wind, and heat. They already were exposed. There is a reason even the weeds huddle next to the bunches, and nothing colonizes the intervening areas that have been stripped of vegetation.

When I was out Friday surveying the grasses, I began to wonder what else was happening I couldn’t see in those few hours just after the storm when snow still covered exposed parts of plants as well as their bases. In some cases, snow that landed on unshed leaves was weighing down branches.

When I went out yesterday, some of those leaves had fallen.

As I wandered Friday, my friend’s concerns with water came to mind when I noticed the junipers hadn’t just amassed snow, they had clutched it.

I wondered if the evergreens, which must have some heartbeat in the cold, were able to absorb moisture through their needles. When I looked at them yesterday, some branches looked much worse, as if they had been damaged by exposure to the cold, either from the snow or from the earlier brutal weeks.

I wondered if the same thing happens with the cholla, which not only have many horizontal surfaces, but prongs to hold on to the snow that lands.

I also began to wonder about the effects of that snow on seeds: was it simply going to loosen them, or cold stratify some. The lily capsules began opening in mid-October.

Friday they trapped snow, which turned to ice. I looked them up in Park’s guide. Ann Reilly says that, with some lily species, one needs to maintain a temperature of 70f for three months after sowing them, then refrigerate them for six weeks. After that, temperatures need to return to 70f for germination to occur in three to six weeks.

I wonder if yuccas have similar requirements. They are members of the same lily family. Friday the uncut yucca heads caught the snow.

Yesterday, the heads were bare again.

As I started thinking about seeds, I noticed the Virginia creeper with snow on its hoods of leaves and dangling berries.

Since they hadn’t been eaten, I wondered if perhaps the plants were designed to capture snow to rot the remaining fruit and release the seeds. The next day, I noticed some of the berries had fallen amongst the Russian olive leaves blown loose from my neighbor’s tree.

I also wondered Friday about why nature designed so many plants to capture snow that long since had given up their seeds. Coneflower heads, like the cholla and the juniper, have arrays of long, sharp spikes. I thought possibly it was to capture water which would hasten the decay of the stems. They never just break off and blow away. Nature must have some way to keep them manicured that doesn’t work when they are in captivity, next to a house or garage that blocks the winds.

Yesterday I saw something I’ve never noticed before. Under the coneflowers, and a few other plants, there was stains in the snow caused, I assume, by pigments leaching from the plants. They indeed were being digested by the weather.

Reilly, Anne. Park’s Success with Seeds (1978).

1. Open grass land at the end of Friday’s storm, 14 December 2012; winterfat among the grasses.

2. Cholla after Friday’s snow, 14 December 2012.

3. Shrub corner with a thick base of snow, partly captured by the wooden fence behind, 14 December 2012. Dr. Huey rose to the right, forsythia behind.

4. The next morning, some of the snow had disappeared in the shrub corner, but green triplets of rose leaves and brown forsythia leaves had fallen on top of the blanket; 15 December 2012.

5. Open grass land after temperatures had risen above freezing for some hours, and melted or evaporated some snow. The grasses kept their snow, but the barren areas between lost their’s; 15 December 2012.

6. Juniper clutching snow to itself, 14 December 2012.

7. Juniper branches, some looking scarred by the cold, 15 December 2012.

8. Chinese trumpet lily seed heads in the snow, 14 December 2012; purple coneflowers in rear.

9. Narrow leaved yucca heads in the snow, 14 December 2012.

10. Narrow leaved yucca heads the day after the snow stopped, 15 December 2012.

11. Virginia creeper leaves and berries right after the snow, 14 December 2012.

12. Virginia creeper berries fallen on the snow, 15 December 2012, along with Russian olive leaves blown loose by the winds.

13. Purple coneflower in the snow, 14 December 2012; other stems are David phlox.

14. Purple coneflower stains in the snow, 15 December 2012; other stems are Silver King artemisia.

15. Áñil del muerto in the snow the day after the storm, 15 December 2012: the existing seeds have been dampened and the warmth of the organic matter in the stems has begun melting the snow in the immediate area. A little staining also has occurred.

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