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Cold Winter Temperatures and its Impact on plants & insects

Cold Winter Temperatures and its Impact on plants & insects

This winter was a cold one – even by New England standards, and as the warmer weeks of spring creep in we tend to forget how frigid some of those nights were. But for some of our landscape plants & pests the impact will be felt for months. Or years.

The Good News:

For many of the non-native invaders like the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, this cold snap has meant a much higher then average winter time mortality rate for the little buggers. This insect has killed, and will likely kill many more (if not all), hemlocks in the Hilltowns and the Pioneer Valley. However, the rapid onset of sustained cold weather has killed off a huge number of this normally cold hardy insect, which has given a temporary reprieve to recently infested trees .

The Bad News:

Just like the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, the majority of plants in our landscape and gardens are not native to this area. So what does this mean? A native insect or plant (or at least their ancestors) has evolved in this climate for millennia and has adapted to multiple cold winters. But when you take a plant out of its natural environment and put it in a manufactured one, problems will arise. Take the much loved rhododendron. While it is native to Massachusetts, it is is not native to the dry compacted poor soil of the commercial shopping parking lot down on King Street. In its normal habitat it is found in rich & moist soils under the protection of a tree canopy in eastern Massachusetts. The result of this misplacement is that the plant looks crispy this spring and can look more dead then alive due to foliage desiccation.

The Moral to the Story:

You might think that I will now jump on the “I love all native plants” train. I won’t. Because who is prepared to give up apples, peaches, tomatoes, daylilies, lilacs, honey bees, earthworms, etc.. all non native? Not me. Winter now is defined by unpredictable fluctuations in temperatures and our plants are not adapting quickly enough. So how do we turn this cold winter impact into an opportunity to educate ourselves and collectively cast a cloak of increased invincibility over our plant life? We need to be both strategic in plant and soil choice, and also sensitive in our analysis of tell-tale signs that may occur through sudden temperature changes. Consider the following for starters:

  • Choose plants that can survive in zones 1-5
  • Plant them in a site that mimics their native habitat (i.e. if they want shade, give them shade)
  • Minimize stresses on them (i.e. if thirsty give water)
  • Pray for snow, nothing is a better cold weather insulator for the roots.

Take these considerations and use them as opportunities for your kids to help plan, plant and learn about growing a landscape that is resilient and can thrive year after year. For more information on how cold can effect your landscape,

Natural Pest Control in the Landscape


This Sat. I will be giving a workshop at my place in Chesterfield on “Natural Pest Control” sponsored by the New England Wildflower Society. (see link above for sign ups) 5 spots left. My 2 decades of controlling pests naturally while growing dozens of fruits, vegetables, herbs & flowers we be talked about. Specifically we will cover: lawn mowers that run only on grass, The “Rodent-Be-Gone 5000” & how to convert Japanese beetles into duck eggs for fun & profit, and much much more. (such as what to do when your lawn mower has a temper tantrum)

The Garden Plot: Woodland Gardens Grow Multidisciplinary Learning

I just published an article on how to create & maintain a native woodland shade garden. Enjoy.

The Garden Plot: Woodland Gardens Grow Multidisciplinary Learning


Entomology: Lessons from the Garden


Recently back from a conference in Boston. One of the more interesting talks was on how climate change will affect pests that affect our landscape and food supply.

5 late winter garden tips


For those who want to consume less industrial food, why not grow your own? Last year at this time I wrote and article about what you can do now to plan your vegetable garden, orchard, greenhouse, etc.. Lets take control of our food supply.


Off to the Amazon

I will be heading down on Friday for 15 days.  Crossing Guyana into Brazil.  Will make a study of the flora.  If i can send photos I will.  Cheers.

Practical Permaculture

I am thinking of doing a workshop for the first time called Practical Permaculture. “Practical” might be the key word in the title. As the workshop will be based off of 2 decades of reading and observing others techniques in 20 plus developing countries. But most importantly, in running a micro farm here in Chesterfield, the foothills of the Berkshires, for almost 20 years. This workshop will be a 1/2 day and will likely take place this summer. Cost will be $15 per person. I will focus on:
animal husbandry, sustainable fruits, vegetable & herbs, preserving the harvest, road kill (fun for the whole family!), harnessing solar power and a few other relevant topics.
Soon I will develop an outline, date & time, etc..
If possibly interested let me know as I will limit the workshop to 25.
Revolution begins with the fork!


Tree care basics workshop

Just posted a new project from the home/office. Hardscaping and vegetable gardens. Cheers.


Tree Care Basics

Saturday, May 10,
11:00 am-1:00 pm Chesterfield, MA
Course Code: HOR3010
Leader: Jim McSweeney, Arborist and Horticulturalist Fee: $26 (Member)
/ $32 (Nonmember)
Limit: 20

Tree Care Basics


I will be running a new workshop on tree care basics. I will demonstrate arboricultural basics based on almost two decades of working with trees & shrubs. Separating the fluff from the facts, I will cover site evaluation, plant selection, planting techniques, watering, mulching, pruning, natural pest control and more. This workshop will take place at my home/office where I have dozens of edible and ornamental trees that have been planted in the last ten years. All participants will receive a copy of the guide “Tree Owner’s Manual” by the USDA, which covers all the topics we will talk about and more.

For more information visit the New England Wildflower Society website.


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