Gardeners may have gotten a helping hand from Old Man Winter this season as the cold temperatures may have a positive effect in limiting bugs and plant disease for this coming growing season.
January and February did not go into the history books as being in the top ten coldest winters in Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to Joanne LaBounty, meteorologist with the National Weather Service, based in Binghamton, N.Y.
“This year, that region did not even rank in the top 10 for cold weather,” LaBounty said. “It did rank eighth in the top 10 snowiest winters.”
But it was cold enough for gardeners.
Barbara Lawson, horticulturalist with The Lands at Hillside Farms, Shavertown, estimates the prolong cold temperatures will cause a decrease in the populations of crop damaging insect such as aphids, white flies and Japanese Beetles this summer.
Lite Blight, a disease affecting tomato plants, is one of many which could also see a decrease, said John Esslinger, horticulturist and educator with Penn State Extension, based in Bloomsburg. Downy mildew, affecting grapes and other vine growing vegetables, may have also been adversely affected by the cold weather, Lawson said.
Both insects and disease are carried north from the south on air currents, said Lawson and Esslinger. Since even many Southern states saw extreme cold temperatures, this journey could take even longer, Esslinger said.
“Some diseases and insects will have to start further south,” Esslinger said.
Orchards may see some “blossom mortality” but the fruit crop should not be affected, Esslinger said. Fruit bearing trees tend to generate more blossoms than needed, he said. This is the tree’s way to compensate for blossoms that die quickly or do not produce fruit.
“It is still early to determine the affect the cold weather has had on trees,” said Esslinger. “I do not think this will be significant.”
Trees will have to contend with scavenging animals such as rabbits, mice and deer, Lawson said. These critters are looking for food and with the snow pack, may have started eating the bark off of trees which will comprise the tree’s health causing it to die.
“A rabbit ate the bark around the trunk of my apple tree at home,” she said.
The snow pack may also have helped insulate bi-annual plants from the frigid cold which will allow them to return this growing season, Lawson said.
“You may have some dead growth on them, but for the most part they will regrow,” she said.
The snow pack and cold temperatures do not indicate what could happen during the growing season, Esslinger said. The right mix of sun and rain are still the most important factors for this year’s vegetable and fruit crops.
“I believe it should be a good year,” Esslinger said.