It’s been a brutal winter in Indiana and Illinois where we’ve seen record snowfalls and drastic record low temperatures, but there is a silver lining to all this misery. If you’ve ever thought about planting a garden, this would be a good year to do so.
According Mare-Ann Jarvela, garden editor with the Old Farmer’s Almanac, our area will still see slightly below average temperatures in March, but things will start looking up in April when we should see temperatures about four-and-a-half degrees above normal. Spring will be followed by a summer with higher than normal temperatures and slightly below normal rainfall. What all this translates into is a good growing season ahead.
“All the snow and moisture is going to help the gardeners at least start their gardens,” Jarvela said. “A lot of people say that snow is poor man’s fertilizer because it brings nitrogen into the soil. It’s a good thing for gardeners.”
Local certified master gardener, Paul Schultz, of Lansing, said this is an exciting time of year for gardeners. “We’ve been going through seed catalogs. That’s our winter entertainment,” he said. “We’re waiting for the snow to go away so we can see some green.”
He is, however, quick to point out the benefits that will be left by the snowy winter. “We had a little bit of a snow drought last year. This year it will help agriculture. The snow soaks into the soil and farmers are going to be blessed this year if we have a decent spring,” Schultz said. “Soil moisture should be great with all that snow, and it will be good for home gardeners, too. Last year, we didn’t get much snow at all.”
Another added benefit of the extended snow cover, said Jarvela, is that is had been a good insulator for what is already in the ground. “All the snow has been protecting all your plants, perennials and trees from freezing and thawing,” she explained. “All that snow on top has been keeping plants nice and cozy under all that snow.”
Not only is the snow doing some good, but these terribly cold temperatures are helping out gardeners by killing some of the insect pests that are unable to survive in this cold weather, said Jarvela. “There may not be much plant disease,” she added.
So, all this good news, but what’s the catch? Jarvela did warn that mice and mole problems can worsen because they’ve been underground digging tunnels all winter and there may be more mole activity.
She also mentioned that where she lives in New England, the starving deer population has been making their way into back yards to nibble on trees and shrubs. “So there may be some damage from wildlife to fruit trees,” she said.
If you have questions regarding gardening, starting in April, a help line is available through the University of Illinois extension office in Matteson, manned by volunteers as they are available. The Ask-A-Master-Gardener Line can be accessed from April to November with questions related to home gardening and agriculture. Call (708) 403-2864 or (708) 679-6897. You can also visit the website, web.extension.illinois.edu/cook for additional information on the master gardener program.