The ice, snow, blustery winds and short, gray days signal the arrival of winter in Ohio. What is a gardener to do? Hope and dream about spring with its sunshine and warm temperatures? Absolutely not! Enjoy each season for its unique attributes. Winter’s hardships only make us stronger. Remember the December ice storm that caused a power outage that lasted several days, or the frozen January day with more than 15 inches of snow? Weather in Ohio makes us tough.
The Midwest showcases all four seasons, with winter’s chilling cold and dazzling, snowy days, spring with its emerging green leaves and the smell of warming soil, summer with thunderstorms and cycles of humidity and drought, and fall with its bright colors and falling leaves. Talk to relocated Ohioans in the warm weather of Florida or California, and they almost always express their longing for the colorful foliage of fall.
Ohio’s gardeners should take heart and remember that we can grow anything here. The plants may not grow as big as they do in warmer climes, and sometimes they don’t fruit due to a shorter growing season, but they will survive for the duration of the summer, or longer if brought indoors. Growing tropical plants as annuals (growing, flowering, and fruiting) can last only for about six months here before they are killed by frost, but at least they can be enjoyed for half the year. Ohioans can still proudly declare, “I’m growing bananas, cannas, and palm trees on my patio.”
Benefits of winter
Hardy plants go dormant in the winter, while many perennials, shrubs, and tree seeds need to be chilled to break dormancy, also known as stratification. This is Mother Nature’s trick to ensure the seed survives the available growing conditions. Snow and rain add much needed moisture to the water tables. Winter cold also kills and lessens the number of insect larva. Some plants we happily grow as annuals, such as lantana and verbena, incidentally ideal butterfly nectar plants, are considered invasive plants in other parts of the country where the growing season is longer. The colder months of winter are a must for spring blooming bulbs, which need a specific number of cold days in order to bloom. Could you just imagine living in California and having a refrigerator full of pots with soil and tulip bulbs? Winter is also a great time to look through garden catalogs, remembering what we liked and what worked last growing season before selecting what to grow next spring.
True, spring is the arrival of the welcomed greening of the landscape. Think about how the trees start to break bud and cast lovely shades of chartreuse, lemon yellow, and spring green. The narcissus jumps up out of its long winter nap with wonderfully colored blossoms of yellow, white, and even pink. The spring flowers of the crabapples and pear trees bloom too in pink and white, back-dropped by the Ohio blue sky. You can almost smell the grass growing.
Over the long winter months, we construct high hopes for spring. As many a baseball fan has said, “This year will be the year.” Maybe this year the flowers will be glorious, and the squirrels (or my kids, dog, cat, or spouse) will stay out of the garden. Maybe this year it will rain when it’s actually needed.
For a gardener, spring is like school being let out early on a warm sunny day– it’s euphoric; however, it is up to the gardener to remember that without the darkness of winter, the spring wouldn’t be nearly so brilliant.
Happy winter, Ohio, happy winter.
Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.