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Cathy Peck/Master Gardener: Gardening and your mental health when winter won’t end

The cold that has produced popsicle toes, the stinging wind chills that have put roses in our cheeks and the snow that came early and has not melted have brought out the blues and the whining in a lot of people. Media’s continued litany about the snow and cold has only reinforced the challenges and convinced many that we have really been put upon.

Gardeners have a resiliency that withstands it all. It comes from having observed and worked with the vicissitudes Mother Nature throws our way. We recognize there are advantages to the snow and cold.

Gardeners know each inch of snow, especially the buoyant type that we have this year with all the air spaces between the crystals, is equivalent to 6 inches of conventional mulch. This means that at ground level, the soil is not nearly so cold as it would be in a dry winter. Roots of trees and shrubs and the crowns of perennial plants will be protected from the harshness. The snow protects the flowering branches of the early spring blooming shrubs (at least the ones covered by the snow) also. So long as we don’t experience a quick melt that is followed by abrupt and bitter freezing, those perennials should make it through very well. The straw or other mulch that we put on last fall after freeze-up will slow the thawing process and keep the plants from heaving (popping out of the ground) and dying. Gradual removal of that mulch as the weather stabilizes and becomes consistently warm will solve that problem.

We know mulch and heavy snow can help us grow plants that usually grow in a warmer zone than is indicated for our area. The snow can also help delay the early bloom time of fruiting trees that often get fooled by warm spring days. Keeping the soil cold by shoveling snow under the trees can cause them to sense that it is still winter even though the days are warm.

Gardeners also realize the cold that makes us so uncomfortable makes a lot of insects even more uncomfortable and kills many. (Of course, mosquitoes are not part of that group.) Hopefully, the potential for devastating loss of ash trees the emerald ash borer represents will be delayed by our winter temperatures. The cold may give scientists and researchers a time buffer to find a way to reduce the impact this insect will have on the many ash trees we have in Minnesota. An increase in woodpecker numbers is also helping reduce populations of the insect. With 990 million ash trees in Minnesota, there is great potential for harm.

We gardeners are always planning for the next gardening season. We get excited by the seed catalogs with the pictures that make us drool over vegetables. Gardening magazines suggest planning schemes for beds and containers that we examine and then plot how we might improve or change to fit our yards. Reality sets in when we do the work and face uncooperative summer weather, but at this time of year we still live with hope and expectation. Those are the best emotions to help maintain a positive outlook when the weather is cold and snowy. And those are some reasons that gardeners have confidence that warm breezes will soon blow our way and we won’t have to bundle up to go outdoors.

Cathy Peck is a Beltrami County Master Gardener. For more information, visit the University of Minnesota website http: to find a myriad of information about horticulture for our area.