This is February.

This is what the yard should look like right now: seedheads sticking out of the snow.

brown turtlehead seedhead in the sunlight, with other turtleheads in the shade in the background and snow

And this is what it looked like earlier this month.

grayish-brown stiff goldenrod plant with barely any seeds left, with snow in the background

Two years ago today, I was talking about below-zero temperatures“It’s the time of the year when it feels like winter will never end, when even though we’ve had less snow than normal, it’s been bitterly cold for weeks.”

This year, though, it seems like we barely even had a winter. In the middle of February were 14 straight days of temperatures above freezing. It started with five straight days above 40, which was weird enough. The temperature dropped a bit for one day before climbing back up to 42 and then shooting up to 63. That was the start of six straight days above 55, with five daily records set. On five of those nights, the low didn’t get below freezing.

In February. In the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Not surprisingly, the little snow we had disappeared. The ground got squishy, and then the perennials started appearing. It’s usually such an exciting sight when the first shoots are spotted – but I cannot muster the energy to be anything but concerned in February.

Lilacs and tulips are bad enough. But then the turtleheads started emerging, too. Turtleheads! They’re far from flowering, but we still should not be seeing any plant growth this early. This one gets a fair amount of sunlight, especially in late afternoon.

broken brown stems from last year, with green roots showing above the ground and four bright-green shoots

This one, however, is in full shade during the winter.

unbroken brown stems from last year, with greening-up roots showing above the ground and about a dozen purple shoots

(To be fair, another one that’s in between the two locations is still in ice.)

brown stems from last year, with bare dirt showing in places and ice and others, no shoots

But the sedum has really popped.

two dozen purplish-green leaf balls and one tipped-over pink leaf ball between last year's stems

(Three years ago, it was late April when the sedums and turtleheads looked like this.)

And the cup plant has lots of little purple shoots.

six thick brown stems from last year, with several small, blurry dark pink or purple spiked leaves

To end the month we were back down into the 30s and 40s, and teens and 20s at night, still warm but closer to normal for this time of year. The ground firmed up again. I had to wonder if the trees – which had begun to bud – were confused about what just happened.

suspended silver maple branch with three sets of buds

Final data is not in yet, since the month hasn’t officially ended, but as of Feb. 27, the average daily high temperature was 39.9 degrees, more than 10 degrees warmer than normal.

This is not normal. This is what the garden looks like now, without snow – more like November than February.

brown turtlehead seedhead, with other turtleheads in the background and no snow

grayish-brown stiff goldenrod plant with barely any seeds left, and no snow

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Blue snow

It seems strange to talk about snow after days and days of 50- and 60-degree temperatures and rain have left us with virtually none. This observation happened just over a week ago.

Near the compost pile I noticed a bright blue spot

round spot of bright-blue snow, with dark blue spots, several inches wide

and then another that I had walked right by without noticing.

oval-shaped dark blue snow next to a hole with a leaf

I had heard of this phenomenon before: animals eat some kind of plant, which turns their urine blue. I thought I had heard it was caused by deer or rabbits, and either could be the culprit in our yard. So I started looking around, and then I started noticing lots of round scat, which means rabbits. (Deer scat is more oval.)

small pile of snow with lots of brown emerald cedar leaves and rabbit scat

The plant: was it buckthorn? Hmm, didn’t we just realize we have a patch of buckthorn in the yard?

small woody stem cut off several inches from the ground

Yep, the stems of these small trees (which I suspect are buckthorn, given their appearance and location close to confirmed buckthorn) seem to have been snacked. An Instagram friend told me last year that rabbits chew the stems of plants cleanly at a 45-degree angle, like the photo above, while deer cuts are more crushed or ragged. Rabbits are also known to remove the bark all the way around a tree, potentially like the messy work below – though so are deer. This damage’s cause is less clear to me.

a tall, thin stem with more than half the bark removed to various depths, with ragged pieces hanging off

Several unofficial sources agree that both rabbits and deer are the animals in the equation, and the chemical is almost always from buckthorn (though apparently salts could be another culprit). Interestingly enough, it’s the bark of buckthorn, and not the berries, that causes this phenomenon.

And a closer look at the first spot showed some rabbit scat right next to the blue.

blue snow

If only the rabbits could eat enough of the buckthorn to kill it.

References

Finally, a snowstorm

We’ve had cold weather and some snow this winter, but not much. Last week we got more than eight inches at once. I caught these flowers before the wind could blow off the snow.

joe-pye weed:

joe-pye weed covered in snow

turtlehead:

turtlehead covered in snow

white coneflowers from the top:

white coneflowers covered in snow

the coneflower’s tall “hats” are funny:

white coneflower covered in snow

drifts so high in the vegetable garden that the rabbit fence is almost buried:

garden fence covered in snow

wind gusts blowing snow off pine branches:

Time to start planning

It’s the first day of spring and while it’s still way too soon to start planting anything outdoors in Minnesota, it’s never too early to start planning.

a pile of flower and vegetable seed packets with handwritten plastic plant markers

Over the years I’ve acquired so many seed packets – hand-gathered and purchased, vegetables and flowers – that it will take awhile to organize them. Maybe I’ll have a plan by the time outdoor planting season rolls around.

Flowers for a cold winter morning

Today is so bright and sunny that when I first woke up, I had a wild impulse to open the windows and let in fresh air. And then I looked out the window and saw the snow and realized that the thermometer said it was one below zero.

bee balm stems in winter

tall stack of books and magazinesIt’s the time of the year when it feels like winter will never end, when even though we’ve had less snow than normal, it’s been bitterly cold for weeks. So it’s a great day to instead stay inside and remember last year’s garden.

I planned today’s activity in advance, way back when the flowers were blooming and the days were long and warm: it’s finally time to look at the flowers I pressed at the end of last summer. They’ve been sleeping under a tall pile of books and magazines for several months.

flowers pressed between book pages

Zinnia, lobelia, and coreopsis after being pressed in tissue paper in a textbook

 

cosmos from the top and cosmos from the side

Cosmos

 

black-eyed susan

Black-eyed susan

 

calendula from the side and calendula from the top

Calendula

 

white hollyhock

This white hollyhock is now translucent

 

turtlehead

Turtlehead

 

back view of the same three zinnias

The backs of these three zinnias are even more interesting than the fronts because of the layered bracts

 

iris

This iris (pressed during the spring) has lost most of its color

 

pearly everlasting

This pressed pearly everlasting is my favorite because of all of the seeds. Moving it makes a mess!

 

Looking at these pretty flowers is a great reminder that seasons change and soon 2015’s first plants will be poking out of the ground. Spring officially begins in only 20 days.