Our Northwest

There's a silver lining in our cold, harsh winter

Thursday, January 26, 2017by  Jon Osterberg

bird feeding her youngIt's a fallacy that an extra-frigid winter will kill off all garden pests.
But for Northwest residents seeking relief from the cold – perhaps they're distraught over frozen pipes, a collapsed roof, or mice and rats taking refuge indoors – they may find a benefit.

Those in mild locales who like to tend winter gardens can enjoy a respite from contending with slugs, which disappear in the cold.
And a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia told the Vancouver Sun that come spring, migratory birds might gobble a big share of pesky insects and larvae. That's because a harsh winter keeps those pests in the ground longer, long enough for hungry birds to return and feast on them.

But generally, entomologists say that temperature doesn't harm insects as much as arid ground. Many insects live in soil and depend on ground moisture to survive.

So if you're hoping Old Man Winter will decimate your pest population, what you really want is dry, prolonged sub-freezing weather. Frigid temperatures and bare ground make a harsher environment than snow, which partially insulates the ground and provides moisture for pests as it melts.

stink bug Plant diseases also are generally adept at surviving bitter cold. For example, fungus from your tomato plants or blight in your fruit trees will linger among the dead twigs and leaves on the ground. Pathogens merely go dormant until spring showers and sunshine revive them.

Perhaps that's good news. With our cold yet clear weather, you can bundle up and venture outside right now to rid your garden and flower beds of last year's dead growth. Do not simply till it into the soil.

There's another ray of hope that stems from cold weather. Has your home been invaded by stink bugs in the past couple of years? If so, scientists say the brown critters are vulnerable to prolonged cold.

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