Year of weather anomaly brings on plenty of garden disasters

Year of weather anomaly brings on plenty of garden disasters

Posted: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 8:04 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Year of weather anomaly brings on plenty of garden disasters
Anomaly: 1. A planet’s angular distance from its perihelion, measured as if viewed from the sun. 2. A departure from the regular arrangement, general rule or general method.
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Forget No. 1. But if 2011 wasn’t an anomaly (No. 2) then I’ve never seen one.
Consider: With nearly 80 inches of rain during the year, we were not far from doubling the average of 45 inches. Kentucky Lake reached its highest level in history back in the spring. Yet, for the fourth time in five years, we suffered through debilitating drought.
The problem, of course, is that almost all that rain fell from January-June and from September-December, virtually leaving out July and August, the two most critical months for vital moisture.
That anomaly reduces the year’s gardening favorability rating from what could have been a rare A all the way down to no more than a barely passing D.
It’s getting old. Of those five years, only 2009 was without drought damage. Droughts, when repeated from year to year with little relief, have an exponential and cumulative ill effect, with accruing damage showing up sometimes a long time after the droughts have ended.
So it was in 2011. Among the drought kills on our place were some jewels that I will never see reach their final stature. One was a 30-year-old hemlock that graced our woods, jumping out from among the deciduous things there after leaf-fall every year. Finally graveyard dead after being on life support for all those drought years. It has already been burned on the hearth.
At the street there stood a picturesque Naylor’s Blue Leyland cypress, with steel blue foliage on short branches arranged perfectly laterally around the trunk. It was some 20 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
I noticed the foliage dulling in late summer and, as with most conifers, once that happens it’s all over. Sure enough, it was over and it has been cut and replaced with an Arizona cypress that will get too big, but by the time it does it will be someone else’s bother.
Oldest among the year’s notable deads was a golden rain tree beside our deck that spread over it in an arbor-like fashion.
It was planted about 35 years ago, and had a trunk diameter of 2 feet or so. I woke up one day back last spring and there it was, dead as a doornail, never leafing out for the summer. One of its logs is burning in our fireplace as we speak. What a loss.
Then there is (was) a tabletop, or Tanyosho, pine, a slow-growing form of Japanese red pine. It graced our front rock garden, and had inched up to some 7 feet in 17 years or so, with the typical flat top of the variety. Again, the needles had been looking dull for some time, then slowly they all turned brown. Dead.
I will have to say, pine bark beetles were a big part of the problem, but they often prey on trees that are already debilitated by disease or drought. The beetles burrow under the bark, and ultimately girdle the tree, stopping life-giving sap from reaching the upper extremities.
There are any number of other, lesser, specimens that have already been dug out and replaced. And even all this is just the tip of the iceberg.
It all started with the fool’s paradise of January, when weather occurrences were, at worst, only a couple of beautiful and not debilitating snows that had our cameras clicking.
These were interspersed with plenty of moderate days that had snowdrops up and blooming, along with a few intrepid helleborus flowers that defied winter, as is their wont.
By mid-February it hit 70 degrees and the show was on. Crocuses, wintersweet, more hellebores and witch hazels were popping. Ditto February, with even more bloom, and the same with March.
Rain, rain and more rain kept the flowering show going all through April and May, and even June had 4 1/2 inches of rain. Spring had been the best in years. More fool’s paradise.
July was the fifth hottest on record, with a meager 1 1/4 inches of rain. August was “horribler,” with a record 104 degrees on the Fourth and little rain. Those two months were all it took to manufacture enough disaster for the whole year.
When rains began in September, it was too little, too late. At least the temperatures moderated.
The last quarter of 2011 was pleasant, as autumn usually is. Well into December, generally the hardest month to realize bloom, we had leftover mums, plenty of camellias, “January” jasmine and, already, the first “spring” snowdrops.
Too, fall brought more torrential rains, and the ground has been soppy wet since October.
It is little recompense for all those deads, and time grows short. Maybe 2012.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 1.3.12

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