~ by Jeff Bowman, Curator of Conifers

As of January 27, 2014, this winter has been a cold and snowy one. Starting in November 2013, there has been above average snowfall and below average temperatures.  The past few winters have seemed mild compared to what Ohio has experienced over the last few months with never ending extremes.

winter japanese gardenOur snow removal equipment is getting a workout this year. It has been a challenge to keep our walk-ways and roads safe for our staff and volunteers. This season, the upper level controlling part of the atmosphere known as the “Jet Stream” has been making it’s “home” far south of us allowing cold and snow to be a reoccurring challenge. Snow producing “Alberta Clippers,” complimentary of Canada, have bombarded us with one snow storm after another.  I didn’t know what a “Polar Vortex” was until we experienced one of these extreme temperature drops earlier this month.

Winter also has its positive attributes. Snow drifts, with their winter beauty, dot the landscape where the winter winds choose to form them. It is remarkable (but a heck of a lot colder!) how the snow drifts resemble sand dunes that occur in the world’s deserts.  This light, powdery snow that has occurred recently is easier to clean up and good for skiing and sledding. Heavier, moisture-laden snow doesn’t blow around as much and is harder to clean up, but can make many a fine snowman or snow fort.

It will be interesting to see how this cold winter will affect our problem bug populations as well as how it might affect our marginally hardy plants. Some tender species may be killed outright. Some root hardy ones may be killed to the ground, only to sprout up again from their bases in the spring.  Others may defoliate (broadleaf evergreens) completely only to refoliate when spring finally rolls around.  Some established, but questionable, plants may prove to be “tough as nails” and be harmed to the minimum. Time will tell.

One thing I’ve learned about The Arboretum’s plant collections is that it’s always changing. There is always plenty of pruning to do on the grounds. With the deciduous plants, now is a good time to see the leafless “skeleton” that may or may not need some pruning. It’s a good time to clean out evergreen plants of old needles and debris, though; snow cover can impede all this.  Heavy, wet snow and ice can be destructive to any plant—plenty of corrective pruning and cleanup may have to be done after the melt occurs.winter tree

Our thousands of plant-protecting deer fences may not look attractive, but have saved many plants from destruction, such as the ravages of becoming deer browse and rubbing damage from a buck’s antlers. Strong winds can make some of the fencing shift possibly damaging the plant(s) inside it. The freeze/thaw cycles that occur can even heave up the heavier metal reinforcing rods. Re-adjustment of all this is a required and necessary job from time to time. I look forward to the spring when we take a majority of this fence material off, leaving the beauty of the plant more visible.

Winter can be a royal pain and a season to despise. It can be an endurance test for many of us.  It can also be a season of great beauty and fascination. It can be quiet and peaceful on a cold, still day. Nature continually proves its strength and force on Earth, regardless of our technology. I long for warmer weather, but I’ve also come to appreciate winter from time to time.

Jeff Bowman

Curator of the Conifer Collection


Enjoy a walk through the Conifer Collection this winter. Brochures are available to guide you through the beautiful array of Wonderful Winter Color.