Q.: Is there a possibility that the subzero weather and wind chills in our area could damage or kill bulb plants and other plants in the landscape?
A.: Let me begin by saying that some of our plants will not survive this weather and some will have damage. At the same time I say that, this happens in the garden every year. So, I can only answer this question by telling you what might be — certainly not what will be. Below are a few thoughts along those lines, including why many of our plants will surprise us and arrive on schedule:
•In Fort Wayne, according to the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, there are two zones: 5b and 6a. 5b is given a hardiness value of minus-10 to minus-15 degrees (air temperature) and 6a minus 10 to minus 5. These zones have been designated because of many past winter temperatures and have been done to help us choose plant material that can live comfortably and survive year after year if these extreme temperatures are reached.
•All of our plants live in microclimates in the landscape. We've created these by building houses, fences, trellises, hills and valleys, then adding plants to decorate each area. This just means the soil and air temperature will differ from location to location and could be a benefit or cause harm if weather conditions are harsh.
•If all plants go into freezing ground temperatures with a good water table, then they have a much better chance of survival. Fortunately we had adequate moisture this past fall and early winter before ground freeze.
•The almost constant snow cover we've had this year has provided extra insulation on the soil so that plants that may have been damaged by the extreme cold and wind have an excellent chance of survival.
•Mature plants that are well-established should be able to handle these fluctuating cold periods. Wind and weather damage on these plants could be to upper exposed areas such as needle damage on evergreens or open areas in the cambium layer of trees caused by late fall pruning or other damage.
•If you planted new trees and shrubs this past fall, this weather could do damage or kill them because they haven't had time to establish strong root systems.
•Our spring flowering bulb plants (tulips and so on) come to us originally from places like Siberia where winters are as harsh as they come, so if they were planted in the fall at the proper depth for the type bulb you have, had adequate soil moisture at the time the ground froze and were mulched, you should see them breaking ground as soon as soil temperatures reach 55 to 60 degrees. Some bulbs, such as crocus, will be early harbingers and assure us that everything will be OK.
•We haven't had a lot of thawing and the resultant heaving of the soil, which tends to shove plants with shallow root systems right out of the ground. This happens nearly every winter, but this year may be the exception and will protect many of our perennials.
As we are all aware, this winter is breaking records and is like a rogue weather-beast that is running wild through the country. As a result, I can only guess at how it will affect our plants, but then, I am always the optimist.