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How will this winter season affect insects this spring?

By Chris Williams on March 15, 2013.

Winter for insectsAll my life, I’ve been a weather watcher, but perhaps now much more so since I’ve become a homeowner and a very serious gardener. I’m also a winter sports enthusiast too and this winter so far has been a disappointment. There is lots of cold, dry, bare ground outside right now. It may change soon though which will be a good thing for my plants. Who knows, we may get enough snow here by the weekend to get me to tune up my XC skis and hit the trails.

If the snow will be good for my plants with that nice insulating protection, how will it be for insect pests? Has the dryer, colder weather these past few weeks been harmful for pests? Well, the data is in for January and while it was definitely colder as compared to last year, it’s not by much. Average temperatures in Boston were about half as warm as in 2012 but still 2.5 degrees warmer when compared to historical norms (source).

Opinions are always all over the map when it comes to whether or not the lack of snow cover is good or bad for insects. I certainly know from my experience in the garden that lack of snow can be really devastating for perennial flowers and woody shrubs. There are actually many variables besides snow or lack thereof that help to determine the survivability of insects. Steady cold winter temperatures are no problem for many insects because of glycols that are produced in response to decreased day length. These natural antifreeze compounds are not unlike the very same compounds in an automobile. Without a doubt, insects are built for the cold.

Insects’ survivability may be in trouble during a winter season when temperatures fluctuate between extremes. We’ve had some of this already this winter with some very mild, wet weather followed by plunging temperatures. Has it been enough to make for a pest free summer? I’m going to venture a guess and say probably not.

Now the latest storm forecast is calling for as much as two feet of snow to fall over a wide area of New England. Me, my garden plants, and the insects will be rejoicing!

Photo credit: Hugo Pujszo desde La Carlota / Foter.com / CC BY-SA

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