I was standing in the garden in my shirtsleeves, a watering hose in my hand the last of November and early December.
“What in the world is going on?” I asked myself as I aimed the hose at a large patch of blooming violas. Temperatures that rocket around from 20 to 70 degrees in a 24-hour period suggest that we are experiencing a changing climate. It seems obvious to me even if all the causes are in dispute.
Surely, I thought, I could find some information on the Web that would address gardens that are still growing in still warm soil in still warm air in what should be winter. Alas, a dedicated and lengthy search of millions of terabytes of information on the Web could offer no explanation for our specific situation.
So I had a serious discussion with the garden.
Me: Here’s the deal. If I water, you might continue growing and then get shut down or killed by frost or snow.
Garden: You forget that we have growing roots beneath the soil that are feeding microbes that are helping us. We’re still serving holiday dinners in the soil.
Me: Look at the iris. They already are showing new growth that we usually see in the spring. That new growth might get killed and reduce the spring blooms.
Garden: Have you forgotten that it is almost impossible to kill an iris? Water and keep the rhizomes in good shape. Bloom, not bloom — you have no control.
Me: Of my nine roses, only one has dropped its leaves and some are showing new growth.
Garden: Don’t worry. A severe frost and snow will shut them down. Cover them after a killing freeze when they drop leaves.
Me: I feel a little stupid watering bare patches of soil where the early spring bulbs are planted.
Garden: Stupid is preferable to guilty if the bulbs dry out and don’t come up in the spring .
Me: What about my little plum trees and the cherry bushes? This is their first winter.
Garden: Get a grip. The only part of our life now that you can realistically control is the water. Keep watering. Keep the exchange of nutrients going on in the soil. But remember: check from time to time to see if water can infiltrate into the soil. If it can, get out the watering cans and water the roses and the shrubs and the trees.
Me: Where is the garden book that tells us what to do in a situation like this?
Garden: Quit looking, it does not exist. Think like a plant and do the obvious. Provide moisture.
Me: I am certain I have read somewhere that watering late into the fall produces new growth and …
Garden: Forget it. Rain is water. Snow is water. What comes from a hose is water. Relax but keep watering.