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Weird Weather to Continue into Spring
by John Harmon
January 12, 2003

With the end of the year 2002 and the shortest days of the long dark behind us the weird weather continues. We had rain in parts of Whitehorse last Saturday! The big story for gardeners in 2002 was the weather around the territory. With a large pool of warm water in the Pacific known as El Nino the weather around the north has been just plain weird.

Bill Miller with Client Services for the Yukon and Northern BC which is part of the Meteorological Service of Canada for the Pacific & Yukon Region reports that "with a warm and dry December Whitehorse airport ended the year with 7 months reporting above normal temperatures in 2002. Only one month, August, showed above normal precipitation during the year. Sunshine was well above normal, although you wouldn't know it from December's numbers, about 12% more than normal for the year. Overall Whitehorse ended the year as the 3rd driest with only 1998 and 1947 being drier and it was tied for the 6th warmest year since our records began in 1943.

The annual report doesn't sound too bad but the forecast for this spring isn't very encouraging. Bill says "The outlook for January sees more of the same with Yukon along with the rest of western Canada forecast to be above normal in temperature. Not surprisingly the winter forecast has Yukon above normal in temperature. We will have to work at it but the precipitation forecast is for above normal precipitation in the southwest and below normal in the north. Spring 2003 looks to be cool and wet, a replay of the spring of 2002". That part about the wet and cold spring isn't what gardeners want to hear. We don't need a repeat of last May that set a new mean monthly low temperature record for Whitehorse.

So far the warmer than normal part of the forecast for the rest of the winter has proved to be true. The warm weather isn't limited to the Yukon. Our next door neighbors, Alaska have also had some very strange weather. Bulbs growing, lawns that need to be mowed just before Christmas and other plants starting to bud out is not only confusing the gardeners but also the wildlife. Bears hibernating late, squirrels still running around and robbing bird feeders and sightings of birds in Anchorage that should have flown south many months ago are just a few examples. A woman in Whitehorse claims to have seen a robin in her back yard this week! The only good news is that any annual weed seeds that sprouted will surely die before spring and be easier to control nest summer.

We have so little snow on the ground around Whitehorse that a severe cold snap could cause significant damage to perennial plants. There just isn't enough snow to provide that ground-insulating blanket that keeps the soil warmer than it would be without cover. It's not too late to get out and add some mulch around beds and trees. Another option is to get out with the snow shovel and pile what snow you can find higher around your plants. If you have bushes, berries or cane fruit like raspberries you could be seeing more winter kill than normal when spring arrives which will mean more pruning to get rid of the dead wood.

Problems from this winter will carry on into the spring. With the small amount of snow there won't be as much moisture in the soil when things finally do melt. You might want to keep an eye on your soil moisture levels in the spring and water your lawn earlier than you normally would. I had big patches of lawn that were scraped clean of snow before breakup that just up and died last spring. With the dry weather early in the summer it never recovered.

With the forecast calling for another cold wet spring you might want to adjust your planting times. Holding off a week or two in the spring will actually give you better performing plants than planting early if the weather is cold. Plants stunted or slowed by the cold won't produce as well as those planted later and not stressed by the weather.

Regardless of the weather it's still exciting to see the days getting longer and I for one am really looking forward to another growing season.

John Harmon owns and operates Tropicals North. Write to John at The Real Dirt, c\o 211 Wood St., Whitehorse, YT., Y1A 2E4 or e-mail

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