The cold, dry winter of our discontent

This time last year, it was raining. There was snow on the ground… you remember what snow is, don’t you? Not just that baby powdering we got yesterday that almost melted by today.

In December 2009 and January 2010, Toronto had roughly one-quarter of our usual snowfall. It looks like February is following the same trend. Anyone digging out in the U.S. or even the UK might be able to say where it went instead.

Now that’s all very well in one way. Our snow tires, for instance, are still stacked by the shed waiting for their trip to the garage.

But remember, snow is precipitation, or lack thereof.

If you’re a tree or shrub in Toronto, especially an evergreen, you’re probably developing a wicked thirst… and if not now, should things continue in the same dry vein, then certainly come spring thaw. The more tender perennials who need that fleecy white overcoat of snow for winter protection will be suffering, too. And cold, dry winds are more likely to freeze-dry the leaves of broad-leaf evergreens or juicy new growth on your rose bushes, resulting in greater winter kill.

So if you’re writing in your 10-year garden diary, note Toronto’s unusually dry Winter of 2009/10. We’ll see what that means when the world warms up. And I mean warm in a good way.


  1. Hiya Helen,

    Well, some of it came here of course, to the UK. But you know about that as we have all been moaning about it vociferously.

    That is a great picture: the light in the background is positively eerie.

  2. The winter this year gives me a lot of concern too. My garden plants in Guildwood is protected by leaf mulch and lots of compost. But without or very little snow I am concerned about my perennials as well.
    I blame El Niño for the lack of snow in Toronto.
    An El Niño year is characterized by slightly warmer ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific that cause a shift in the global weather patterns. As a result, Ontario winters tend to be milder and drier.
    Let's wait amd see!
    Spring is around the corner:)
    By the way I just found your blog, great pictures from the lake.

  3. Helen, I think we all know what happened. Your snow (and a little extra of mine, and some few heaps from Labrador, and maybe a little from the Antarctic) all went to Washington to discuss climate change with the politicians.
    Seriously though, you've made a good point; all this winter dry is not good for a lot of plants. I hope some snow comes to you soon. I have a few drifts I can spare if you need.

  4. Hi Helen, It is a concern, especially since I've put very little protection down this year. Looking on the bright side ( sort of), if I loose any plants, I'll have more room for the many plants I've already ordered for the Spring.

  5. Helen, The Southeastern US has petitioned the powers that be….to take this snow and cold weather back up north where it truly belongs…I hope you get some precipitation soon. gail

  6. I really love that atmospheric photo. The blue umbrella is perfect 🙂

    We too have had many dry winters and our trees are showing the stress of it. Thankfully, this winter isn't one of them. I'm just hoping we can keep some snow on the ground until spring – which comes rather late around here.

  7. Snow is predicted for South Georgia today. It has actually snowed about 50 miles north of us. DH can vaguely remember snow that stuck on the ground ONCE here, more than 60 years ago. It was such a novelty that his Mom wouldn't let them go outside, LOL.

  8. Hi Helen, We've been having a dry winter here in Maine, too, with no snow now in almost a month. A compelling factoid on the weather the other night is that Philadelphia had twice as much snow in one week as Portland, Maine has had the entire winter so far! It looks like mid-March here — almost all the snow has melted off my roof and we have lots of bare patches on the ground. Fortunately, we had an unbelievably wet year last year, so I'm hoping we still have moisture "in the bank." Like guild-rez, I'm wondering how much this is an El Nino effect. Not good news if it is since global warming is supposed to make El Nino years more frequent. -Jean

  9. I hope yo will get the precipitation you need for your garden's protection and growth. I think your photo with the blue umbrella is quite effective. Because of our climate, my perspective on snow is different. In my world that baby powdering is considered real snow worthy of news coverage! We had that today, and it was exciting.

  10. Joco, Minging about the weather is an international pastime — and great equalizer. Thanks for your kind words on the shot.

    Guild-Rez, I'll have to investigate the El Nino effect (can't get the tilde above the N). Welcome to the blog.

    Jodi, Drifts welcome. Drift 'em on over. I have a dry garden to begin with, so I'll take all I can get.

    Barry, Yes you're quite right… however, I don't usually need the winter weather to help me kill, I mean, make space for, more plants!

    Thanks, Gail. You never know what the next few weeks will bring. Hope the Big Chill isn't too unkind to your garden.

    Melanie — I couldn't believe my luck when I noticed that person with the blue umbrella. And they were standing stock still looking at the rising mist! Wish I could've sneaked up a little closer, though.

    Ms. S. — Water-wise gardening is a big part of my upcoming Grand Simplification for 2010. Once things get established, I'm hoping they'll survive crazy droughts.

    Nell Jean — Hope the snow is fun and not calamitous for you. Throw a few snowballs for us up here.

    Jean — Didn't realize that you were having the same problem over in Maine. It seems like we're suffering from the Great Inverse this winter. I never thought I'd be thinking that I miss the snow.

    Deb, Glad you enjoyed your snow day. Did you make any snow-bunnies?

  11. Gorgeous photo, but the weather (everywhere it seems) is alarming. Any suggestions for ways we can help shrubs, trees (like my poor fall-planted serviceberry!), and evergreens make it through this? Nothing to do now, of course, but come spring?


  12. I'm glad you noticed too: I've been thinking of this as the winter drought. I hope that the plants will all be saved by the excess moisture in the ground. But I would love a snowstorm now. How could we not have had even a one????

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