Mudseason Miscellany

– Posted in: Mud Season

The eighteen inches of snow that had fallen on the night of March 6th had finally melted this past weekend. (For a few dramatic pictures of that storm, visit Cold Climate Gardening’s Facebook Page.) And now it’s snowing again, to the tune of five or more inches. This is demoralizing. But cold climate gardeners are hardy souls, and we face these mud season snows with stoic perseverance. So I thought I’d share a few interesting tidbits that weren’t big enough to merit a blog post of their own, to pass the time and take my mind off the weather.

Who’s That Creeping In My Side Yard?

The weekend after the Big Snow, I was wandering around in the fifty degree (F) weather, taking pictures of where the snow had already melted. That’s the best place to plant bulbs for next spring. A bit of brown movement on the snow caught my eye, and when I looked closer I saw it was a caterpillar.

Caterpillar on snow

Never expected to see a caterpillar crawling along the snow. Do you know what species it is? (Click to enlarge)

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a caterpillar crawling on the snow before, but it indicates that someplace nearby had warmed up enough to persuade him to come out of dormancy, or the nearest caterpillar equivalent. I wonder if he was perplexed to find snow under his tootsies instead of cold sodden earth?

Who’s Been Walking In My Side Yard?

Possum tracks in snow

Click for larger

I found these tracks on the same side of the house as the caterpillar. As best as I could determine, they only went in one direction: away from the house. The implications of that are disturbing. By comparing it to the images on this site, I’m pretty sure it’s a possum. It makes sense, as we’ve had possums in the chicken coop before. Here’s a closer look:
Possum track detail

Possum tracks.

Talk About Cold Hardy

Last weekend, as I said, the snow had finally melted. My sister has an abundance of winter aconites (Eranthis sp.) at her new house, and last Friday she dug some up for me and potted them so I could take them home. (She got snowdrops from me.) I left them on the porch all day Saturday, not realizing the low would be 16F(-8C). Sunday was (relatively) warm and sunny, and more importantly, snow was predicted for the foreseeable future. I found the perfect spot for the winter aconites and determined that the soil had thawed there. Then, being a thrifty sort of gardener, I was going to divide the clump of winter aconites so as to have more of them in the future. But I couldn’t. The clump of soil was hard as a rock, completely frozen.

Frozen eranthis rootball

The roots were frozen solid, but the flowers seemed perfectly content

This illustrates why these plants can bloom so early. Frozen earth around their roots doesn’t faze them. I think truly warm weather would bother them more. I planted my first winter aconites purchased from a discount bulb catalog, and they bloomed and prospered. Long after I had moved away, my mother called me every spring to let me know they were blooming. But I could never get them started from purchased bulbs again, only from live plants passed on by a friend. So I was very glad to get these winter aconites from my sister.

How about you? Do you have a strange plant or animal story? Pull up a chair with your favorite hot beverage, and share your tale while we wait for spring to come back.

About the Author

Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy’s been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Les March 26, 2011, 6:40 pm

It looks as if your garden is going to wake up, snow or not. Even though we live in the middle of the city, we have regular visits from possums and racoons who seem quite adaptable to urban condiditons.

Carolyn @ Carolyn's Shade Gardens March 25, 2011, 10:02 pm

Isn’t that a wooly bear caterpillar? Here in southeastern PA, it snowed two nights ago and went down into the low twenties last night. I have a big hellebore event at my nursery tomorrow, and my husband is currently driving the plants around in our van to try and warm them up so they don’t droop. They are not in carseats.

Eranthis really can’t be grown successfully from bulbs because it does not like to be dried—I am amazed you did it. The easiest way is to collect the copious seeds when they are ripe and broadcast them away from the mother plants. but if someone gives you plants that’s even better.

Kathy Purdy March 26, 2011, 12:44 pm

Carolyn, that’s what I have heard about eranthis, too, that they don’t do well as bought corms because they get dried out. I have seen advice to soak them overnight before planting. I chalk that first success to beginner’s luck. I was in high school, or maybe even junior high, when I planted them.

Kai March 24, 2011, 7:09 pm

That’s a beautiful caterpillar. The appearance of bugs throughout different times of the year can be good indicators for certain seasonal changes and stuff–a science that I have not studied enough.

gail March 24, 2011, 4:48 pm

I think you’re right Kathy, I’ve had terrible luck with eranthis~They don’t like our Middle Southern heat…But, aren’t they wonderful hardy plants for your garden. I think they’re beautiful. gail

Alistair March 24, 2011, 2:19 pm

Winter aconites must be like the snowdrops Kathy, best planted in the green. Yesterday whilst watering the Begonias in the greenhouse the water stopped flowing out of the can, on inspection I found a mouse which must have fallen in and drowned, not a cheery story.

Aagaard Farms March 24, 2011, 12:01 pm

We’re still deep in snow in Manitoba – your pictures are encouraging! The snow will go, the snow will go, the snow WILL go……….

Kathy Purdy March 24, 2011, 12:17 pm

That’s the spirit, you extremely hardy soul! Thank you for stopping by to comment

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings March 24, 2011, 11:54 am

Tough plants and tough souls. Amazing really about the eranthis.~~Dee

Barbara Bell March 24, 2011, 11:16 am

I have had snowdrops appear already, through the snow, as have many other gardeners in Upstate NY. However, when the snow melts I find these little spring wonders have wandered all around the yard. They long ago escaped their original locations. I think they have shallow enough bulbs and roots that shifting snow lifts them up and deposits them a few inches further every year. At least that’s the only explanation I can come up with!

Kathy Purdy March 24, 2011, 12:20 pm

My snowdrops are also blooming through the snow, as my GBBD post illustrated. Do you think it is the original plants moving, or are they dispersing seed which then grows into new plants? My original clumps of snowdrops have expanded over the years, but there are also new plants springing up 6 inches to a foot away, and I think they are seed sown.

Frances March 24, 2011, 9:17 am

Amazing stuff, Kathy! The caterpillar especially. Hooray for your antifreeze Aconites, and a sister willing to swap. May your snow melt to reveal many flowers. 🙂

Donna March 24, 2011, 8:08 am

I found a worm crawling along a big pile of snow recently…lots of wildlife at home and work, groundhogs, foxes, deer, squirrels, birds…even with all the snow and cold..

Mr. McGregor's Daughter March 23, 2011, 10:28 pm

No odd stories to tell, but today was wildlife day in my garden: in addition to three squirrels, the chipmunk made its first appearance of the year, and the first wading bird (a great egret) visited the pond. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a caterpillar in the snow, that is very odd. It’s possible the possum may have been on the roof, and not camping out in the attic. (At least I hope so.)
That’s pretty funny about the aconites. You’ve got to love a tough plant.